Monday 21 September, 2020

Holness proposes legislation to give more powers to security forces

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force at a police post in St James. (PHOTO: Shawn Barnes)

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force at a police post in St James. (PHOTO: Shawn Barnes)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has proposed a new legislative framework that, if implemented, will give intermediate and specific powers to the security forces.

Holness made the proposal on Friday, during the monthly sitting of the National Security Council. The aim is to secure the gains made during the states of public emergency (SOEs) that were implemented in 2018 and which led to a 21 per cent decline in murders across the country, he said.

However, the SOEs, which require a two-thirds majority support in the parliament, and which were a major plank of the government’s crime-fighting measures, were discontinued after the parliamentary opposition pulled its support last December.

According to a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on Monday, Holness noted that the overall crime rate in 2019 is comparatively lower than the same period in 2018. However, he expressed concern at what he described as “the unacceptable levels of murders and shootings across the country”.

It was against this background that he proposed the legislative framework, giving more powers to the security forces, in light of the discontinuation of the SOEs.

The OPM said the proposed enhanced security measures would empower the security forces with the tools deemed necessary to disrupt criminal networks, reduce violence and increase public order.

In order for the legislation to take effect, specific conditions must exist to trigger and sustain the enhanced security measures. It also proposes a system of accountability and judicial recourse to protect the rights of citizens and it also states the specific powers provided such as search and detention. It states the persons designated with responsibility for use of such powers.

 Despite the pending legislation, the prime minister stressed that the use of SOEs is still a viable option for public safety and protection.

According to the OPM statement, the National Security Council also reviewed the progress made with other legislation which will contribute to improvements in national security. 

These include amendments to the Criminal Justice (Suppression of  Criminal Organizations) Act, the Firearms Act, Proceeds of Crime Act and the Bail Act. 

 And the Council also received a presentation from the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), which examined measures to improve border security and reduce Jamaica's vulnerability to transnational crime. 

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