Saturday 20 July, 2019

St James state of emergency continues to cool last year’s ‘hot spots’

Recent calls by several stakeholders, including politicians and the business community, for an extension of the state of emergency in St James, could be interpreted as a manifestation that the process of taming the crime monster with the use of the enhanced security measures is yielding some gains.

Bloodletting in the parish, which resulted in some 335 murders there last year, spilled over into this year until Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a state of emergency for the parish on Thursday, January 18.

Earlier this month, one of the most vocal advocates for the extension, Montego Bay Mayor, Homer Davis, was quoted as saying, "within this period last year there was a murder every 32 hours".

Elaborating, Davis said, "We commend the security forces on a job well done. I am pleased to say that if we continue on this same trend, we should have less than 100 murders this year."

Noticeably, there has been a drastic decline in murders recorded in the violence-prone inter-city communities of the parish, such as Salt Spring and Flanker, where homicides numbered were over 80 and 30, respectively, last year. But so far this year, the murder tally for the two communities that featured so heavily among the over 300 murders in the parish last year, are both in single digits.

Statistics indicate that up to July 21, some 55 people were murdered in St James. This is a reduction of 113 when compared with the similar period in 2017, when 168 people were killed in the parish.

Coincidentally, up to Saturday, July 28, the national murder count stood at 758, which is 126 less than the 884 that were recorded over the same period last year.

Joining the recent call for an extension of the state of emergency which was first extended for another 90 days when it came to an end in May, Attorney General, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, who is also the Member of Parliament (MP) for West Central St James, argued that there was word going around that the Opposition may not want to support a further extension.

"We hear the Opposition saying they are not so sure they want to extend it, and I ask myself why is it there is disagreement about continuing something that is taking us in the right direction," the attorney general said during a ceremony to launch Emancipation and Independence Day activities in St James earlier this month.

But last Tuesday the parliamentary Opposition calmed fears by again giving its support to the continuation of the emergency measures in St James, although some of its House members voiced dissatisfaction with the now protracted exercise.

However, all 52 Members of Parliament who were present at the sitting supported the resolution authorising the extension of the state of emergency. Eleven MPs were absent.

Then the Senate on Friday voted to extend the state of emergency in St James for another three months, until November 1. All 15 senators who were present voted yes, while six were absent.

Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, in moving the resolution for the extension, highlighted that much was accomplished under the initiative, but acknowledged that more needs to be done.

If the current trend of reduction in murders in the parish holds, the parish which in recent years has become the bloodiest in Jamaica, could indeed record less than a half of the over 300 murder that occurred last year.

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