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Extortion worsens

Criminals charge drivers $5,000 to jump loading line at Spanish Town bus park

Friday, November 10, 2017

Extortion in the Spanish Town Municipal Bus Park has worsened with gangsters developing a list of what they call “shotta buses” that are allowed to jump the loading line for a fee of $5,000 daily, a source familiar with the racket told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“You have some buses that they call 'shotta buses', they don't join the line, they just go to the front. Dem just load and then dem gone,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The drivers of other buses, he added, don't escape the extortionists, as they are forced to pay $2,500 to use the park.

It is believed that bus driver Ervin McLeggan, who was cut down in the bus park on Tuesday, was on that “shotta bus” list but was removed after a meeting among the gangsters.

According to the source, bus operators do not report the matter to the police because they are fearful for their lives.

“But if they don't make a complaint to the police, then the police cannot act on it,” he insisted.

Senior Superintendent of Police Anthony Powell, who is in charge of the St Catherine North Division, said he was not aware of any 'shotta bus' list.

However, our source insisted that the list existed .

“The shotta buses use the exit gate to come in and skip the line, and they should not be doing that. If we had police enforcing the rules that could not happen,” the source said.

The man added that extortionists are sometimes unrecognisable because they disguise themselves as bus drivers, conductors, and even students.

The bus park has long been plagued by extortionists and, in previous years, was at the centre of deadly gun battles between the rival One Order and Klansman gangs in Spanish Town.

In May 2015, then National Security Minister Peter Bunting announced that a police post would be established at the park as part of long-term measures to address crime, including extortion, in the town.

Bunting, who made the disclosure during a tour of the St Catherine North Police Division, said the decision came out of a meeting with key stakeholders in the town, prior to the tour, including the parish council, operators of the bus park, the police, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and the church.

But yesterday another source, who also wished not to be named, said that inadequate security was one of the main problems at the bus park. He noted that the personnel provided by the owners of the park were unarmed.

He argued that if the park had a police post, criminal activities would less likely be a problem.

“Most of the things that happen in the park happen when the police exit the park, leave one area to the next area, or they don't come in as yet,” he said, adding that a police post there would make shopkeepers, bus drivers and commuters feel safe.

“If the police are here constantly, then the guys who have no business in the park will be forced out,” he said.

A commuter who frequently utilises the park told the Observer that poor lighting also contributes to the criminal activities there.

However, Senior Superintendent Powell said that a police post was not the only thing that was needed in the park.

He said a team had looked at the facility and had recommended the installation of closed-circuit television cameras and other measures.

He also noted that a police post was in the park before, but it was “burnt down by criminals”.

“The police don't necessarily need a post there, because they should be out there in the field,” Powell said, adding that the police were, in fact, in the park when gunmen attacked McLeggan on Tuesday morning.

“Police are always present in the park, it is just that they were not situated to engage the trigger man, and he managed to escaped,” he said.

He said that the park is a hot spot for not only extortionists, but other criminals, and that the police patrols deployed there have the main task of reducing these activities.

Yesterday, several cops were seen in the congested bus park. However, people seen there said the police presence does not make a difference as the criminals have no fear.

Meanwhile, a Digicel retail store in the park was left with a gaping bullet hole in the window following the shooting of the bus driver earlier in the week.

The owners of the park say they are in dialogue with the police and the Ministry of National Security about the safety concerns.