BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — The St Elizabeth Parish Council is to meet with the Police High Command to discuss what is being described as an "alarming spike" in criminal activity in this south central parish.
The decision to request an "emergency meeting" with the police came at last week's monthly parish council meeting in Black River after councillor for the Southfield Division Gregory Myers (Jamaica Labour Party) raised the issue.
Late Sunday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Derrick Cochrane — who heads the Area Three Police which includes St Elizabeth, Manchester and Clarendon — told the Jamaica Observer that a meeting would be arranged at the earliest possible date.
In emphasising the urgency of the situation to fellow parish councillors, Myers who was himself the victim of an armed robbery in Southfield in June, said parish councillors should not sit idly by.
"As leaders at this level we need to ensure that we have an input," he said. "It has to be a collaborative effort involving all of us (in partnership with the police) if we are to contain crime," he said.
Myers noted that while there had been a number of murders and reports of rape and other serious crimes, it appeared that bars and shops in communities were being particularly targeted by armed robbers many of whom were coming from other parishes.
He got immediate support from chairman of the council, Everton Fisher (People's National Party — Balaclava Division), who claimed "the bars were under siege".
Cochrane told the Observer that while there had been a 27 per cent increase in robberies in St Elizabeth in 2012 up to October 21, the police were confident that the situation was under control.
Identifying Santa Cruz and its environs as one of the major trouble spots, Cochrane said the situation had improved recently after police detained nine suspects over the last two to three weeks.
One suspect had been positively identified in connection with a recent tape of a young woman and "thorough investigations" were ongoing, Cochrane said.
He said the police were hunting for two men who robbed student footballers of the St Elizabeth Technical High School in a high-profile incident recently. 'We know who they are and we have warrants out for their arrest," he said.
Of 85 cases of robbery reported in St Elizabeth up to October 21, Cochrane said 26 had taken place in Santa Cruz which is the leading commercial centre, 14 in the parish capital Black River, 11 in fast-growing Junction. Nain and Lacovia had recorded seven robberies each, New Market and Maggotty four each, Balaclava two, and Siloah and Malvern one each.
Cochrane urged residents to be vigilant without resorting to vigilante justice. He regretted that "only recently" a young man from Clarendon was killed by angry residents in the Lovely Point area just east of Santa Cruz after he allegedly robbed a bar at gunpoint. The firearm was reportedly handed over to the police.
"Be vigilant and if you make a citizens arrest, call the police and hand over the suspect," Cochrane said.
Against a backdrop of suggestions that crime figures were actually higher than were being reported, Cochrane urged residents "not to suffer in silence but to report all crimes".
The police, he said, "cannot know unless we are told".
He also reiterated recent calls for neighbourhood watch groups to be activated in all communities as a crucial element in the fight against criminals. Residents, he said, should take careful note of strangers in their midst and report their presence to the police.
Cochrane said that as part of an outreach programme to contain criminals using the "corridor" from Clarendon to South Manchester and South East St Elizabeth, a town hall meeting would be held on Thursday afternoon at the Alpart Sports Club in Nain, with the police from St Elizabeth and Manchester represented.