Tuesday 20 August, 2019

Senate gives greenlight for extension of St Andrew South SOE

Kamina Johnson Smith

Kamina Johnson Smith

The Government has received the greenlight to extend the state of emergency (SOE) that was declared for the St Andrew South Police Division on July 7.

The extension, until October 5, came on Friday after the Senate voted to approve the extension of the emergency measure, albeit by the narrowest of margins.

At the end of the debate on the resolution to extend the SOE, 14 of the 21 senators voted for the extension, two, including Senator KD Knight, abstained, while five were absent during the vote, including three Opposition senators who were earlier present during the debate.

At least two-third majorities of both Houses of Parliament were required to keep the SOE in force, and the narrow vote in the Senate on Friday followed another narrow vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The vote in the 63-member House was 44 for, two against, while 17 members were absent.

In making the case for the extension on Friday, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Kamina Johnson Smith, pointed to the high murder rate in the country and incidents of shooting within the communities that fall within the St Andrew South Police Division over the past two and a half years.

She said there were a total of 402 murders and 441 shooting incidents in the division over the period. This was the second highest aggregate count among geographical police divisions for the reporting period.

Johnson Smith said while police intelligence suggests a higher number, they have identified 25 gangs operating in the geographic space.

Some of the communities in the St Andrew South Police Division are sections of Maxfield Avenue, Waltham Park Road, Seivwright Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Waterhouse, Duhaney Park, Olympic Way, Tower Hill, Seaward Gardens, Chisholm Avenue, Three Miles and Payne Land.

Johnson Smith said the gangs in the communities are involved in inter and intra-gang feuds which often result in violent confrontations.

Johnson Smith told the Senate that between January 1 and July 2, there were 94 murders and 98 shooting incidents in the division.

“The division accounted for 14 per cent of all murders and 15 per cent of all shooting incidents across all police divisions in Jamaica,” she said.

“If the rate of murder experienced over that period (January 1 to July 2) was allowed to continue without intervention, it’s predicted that it would result in as many as 190 murders in the division, and would represent an increase of 28 per cent when compared with the relevant period in 2018, when 148 murders were recorded in the division, already a frightening number of lives lost,” Johnson Smith added.

She said there has been a decline in murders since the SOE was imposed in the division on July 7.

During the debate, Knight, an Opposition Senator, said his conscience did not allow him to vote for the emergency measure.

Other Opposition senators, including Damion Crawford and Lambert Brown, told the Senate that the SOE was ineffective.

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