Sunday 16 June, 2019

Jamaica in 'crisis of violence for a long time' - police commissioner

Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson

Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson

Jamaica has been in a “crisis of violence for a long time”, according to the Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson.

The Commissioner made the statement on Tuesday as he, along with the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Rocky Meade, appeared before parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee where they were questioned about the ongoing states of public emergency and Zones of Special Operations in effect across several parishes.

Both men sought to give justification for the extension of the security measures.

Commissioner Anderson described the country as being in the grips of a high level of violence which manifests itself in the high number of murders and shooting incidents. He said it had been critical to reduce the incidents of murder and shootings in order to let Jamaicans feel safe in their communities.

Hence the justification for extending the states of emergency in St James and St Catherine North and the imposition on Sunday of a similar emergency measure in the Corporate Area police divisions of Kingston Central, Kingston Western and St Andrew Southern.

Major General Anderson argued that while it had been crucial to reduce those numbers, also of critical importance is what is not captured in the statistics – that is the degree of fear that exists in these communities.

He told the committee that people have begun to feel safer in their communities "as they have come to realize that there is a better way of life."

He noted that persons were going home later because they feel safer and that some businesses, particularly in St James, were reporting an uptick in their operations.

A state of emergency (SOE) was first imposed in St James on January 18 after 335 murders were recorded in the parish in 2017 when 1,616 people were murdered. Noting that to date the parish has recorded 146 fewer deaths when compared to the corresponding period last year, Anderson said that for every life saved this year, “it means next year we won’t have two reprisals for it.”

When asked by Opposition member Horace Dalley to provide justification for the Corporate Area SOE, especially since there were no reports of an upsurge in murders and shootings in recent weeks, Anderson said, among other things, intelligence suggests linkages between criminals in the communities now under the SOE and others outside its boundaries.

For his part, Major General Rocky Meade said efforts were ongoing to boost the capacity of the Jamaica Defence Force, including recruitment through the National Service Corps.  

On the question of when things would get back to normal, he said as a country we should ask ourselves what is normal.

He questioned whether in Jamaica normal is measured by the number of troops and policemen that are out on operations or by the level of crime and violence in the society. He also asked whether it is “a certain state of affairs that is within the state of normal policing.”

“If that’s what normal is, then the measure of when we can go back to normal is when we achieve those conditions that are considered by a civil society as normal,” Meade said.

He noted that in some societies, it may be a one-week response to get things back to normal while for others it may take decades.

“We have made tremendous progress in a matter of months and the danger I would suggest, with trying to measure normality by time, is that the persons who are perpetuating crime and violence are also listening. And if they are of the view that what is the measure is not when we’re on top of the situation but when a time has passed, then they will just wait until that time has passed and get back to what is business as usual for them, but may not be normal to the citizens of Jamaica,” the Chief of Defence Staff argued.

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