State of emergency right on track, says JDF

BY MARK CUMMINGS
Editor-at-Large
cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has reported that the state of public emergency that was imposed on the western parish of St James last Thursday is achieving the desired results.

“After the first 48 hours of the announcement of the state of emergency we have already seen encouraging results,” JDF Colonel Daniel Pryce told a press briefing at the JDF's Burke Barracks in Montego Bay yesterday.

“On Thursday we seized one Kalashnikov rifle and six live rounds in Flanker, Montego Bay. We suspect that the high- powered weapon was used in one of the recent brazen murders that would have taken place in Montego Bay over the past few weeks. That weapon is to undergo ballistic and forensic testing to determine its history.”

He added that also on Thursday, eight members of the “dangerous” Sparta gang, who were wanted for murders or in connections with shooting crimes, were arrested.

The JDF colonel also told members of the media that on Friday, 15 individuals were arrested in connection with the illegal purchase and sale of illegal petrol in the Freeport area of Montego Bay.

“Over 5,000 litres of diesel and petrol, which was being sold from five illegal makeshift petrol distribution points, were also seized in the operation,” he said.

The colonel added that in the meantime, target operations, which include vehicle checkpoints, cordons and searches, patrols and snap raids, continue to put pressure on gangs “as we pledge to take back St James”.

For a number of years the parish of St James has seen rising levels of criminality as murders, shootings, extortion, illegal drugs, illegal guns, lotto scamming, and general lawlessness have climbed to record levels.

In 2017, for instance, some 335 murders were recorded in the parish, and seven since the start of this year.

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the emergency measure in a bid to arrest the parish's worsening crime problem.

Colonel Pryce stressed that the state of public emergency, which will be in force until February 15, will give the security forces additional powers of search and detention, temporarily.

“During this period, we will be temporarily abridging individual rights in order to facilitate the security forces in their search for gang members, scammers, wanted men, persons of interest, and other criminals, as well as the guns and ammunition,” he stressed, as he urged the citizens to cooperate with the security forces.

“In order to more successfully carry out these operations, however, we need the support and cooperation of the citizens of St James. Our operations are only as good as the intelligence that drives them, and that good intelligence is already out there in the communities,” he argued, urging citizens to “tell us what you know about criminalities in your communities”.

The colonel also used the occasion to urge citizens to abide by the guidelines regarding the closing hours for businesses in St James.

The press conference was called to update the media on the first two days of the state of public emergency in the parish.

Media representatives, however, were not allowed to ask questions.

“The operations are of a sensitive nature. We rather say less,” Major Basil Jarrett, the JDF's civil military cooperation and media affairs officer, responded to the Jamaica Observer, when asked why the media were not permitted to ask questions.

Meanwhile, business operators across the resort city of Montego Bay appear to be adhering to the guidelines for the closing hours of businesses during the state of public emergency.

Our news team on Friday observed a number of stores pulling down their shutters at 6:00 pm, while gas station operators were also seen closing at the stipulated time of 10:00 pm.

Popular entertainment spot Pier One was also closed at midnight, as stipulated.

A number of visitors, though, expressed disappointment at the early closure.

“It's sad, Pier One is my favourite places. I was hoping to have a good time, and the time so short,” said a visitor, who gave her name as Kathy.

She said, however, that she is happy to be in Jamaica.

“The experience is good. I don't see any trouble here. I see a lot of police and soldiers and that is good. I feel very safe. Jamaica is a great place,” she argued.

Yesterday, Heidi Fisher, another visitor from Toronto, Canada, who has been in Jamaica since January 1, welcomed the lawmen on the streets.

“There is no fear. It is great that there is a high level of police and army personel on the streets. I have been stopped and checked at various checkpoints about six times since Thursday, and the lawmen were friendly and courteous, and it's obvious that they are looking for the guns,” she stated.

She described the travel advisory released by the Canadian Government earlier this week, as an “overreaction.”

Meanwhile, the security forces were yesterday again out in large numbers across several inner-city communities in the parish.

The Sunday Observer news team observed a number of police and soldiers stopping and searching vehicles, as well as passengers. A number of houses were also searched.

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