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No gangs here!

Mount Salem councillor, CDC chairman insist

Thursday, September 07, 2017

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MONTEGO BAY, St James - People's National Party (PNP) councillor for the Mount Salem Division in St James, Kerry Thomas, is adamant that the police data stating that 12 gangs are operating in his area is totally misleading.

“I am not aware of any gangs in Mount Salem and if the police have any intelligence to show anything else, then I would like them to sit with me and update me about what is happening around me. Up to now they haven't done that,” the first-term councillor told the Jamaica Observer West yesterday.

“I have heard that the list of gangs that the police have named are in other areas, not in Mount Salem,” he insisted.

Chairman of the Mount Salem Community Development Council (CDC) Winsome Barnes, joined Thomas in strongly refuting assertions by the National Security Council (NSC) that there are gangs operating in the community, even while admitting that there are “bad men” in the area.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared Mount Salem as the first zone of special operations (ZOSO) in the government's crime fighting initiative.

“The police say there are 12 gangs in Mount Salem, but there is no gang in Mount Salem. There are bad men in Mount Salem and there might be murderers in Mount Mount Salem, but there are no organised gangs that I know of,” the Mount Salem CDC head declared.

At the press conference to launch the first zone Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake said that murders in the Mount Salem area rose from 46 in 2014 to 85 in 2016, and 54 so far this year, with 12 known gangs operating in the community.

“I think the Mount Salem Police Division or the Mount Salem Police Station is responsible for these areas, so should something happen in Rose Heights or other areas, the response comes from the Mount Salem Police Station. So probably this is why it is all summed up into just being Mount Salem,” Barnes surmised.

Residents, the Opposition PNP, and other stakeholders disputed the police data and on Tuesday the NSC admitted to an error in the murder figures, but stood by its decision to declare Mount Salem a high crime zone.

Barnes, nonetheless, said she welcomed ZOSO in the community, noting that since the curfews, the barrage of gunshots, which usually echoed around the community at nights have ceased, even as there are no reports of any recovery of weapons by members of the security forces in the area.

A CDC is the composition of all organisations in a community, such as neighbourhood watches, youth clubs, citizens groups, and women's groups. These are combined into one umbrella group to discuss development issues, make plans and advocate for positive changes within a community.

Barnes, who welcomed the acknowledgement of inaccuracies in the murder count since the start of the year, is appealing to the authorities for quick social intervention following the incursion.

“First and foremost that was one of our biggest challenges [inaccurate murder tally] and now that it has gone, we will be looking for social intervention.

“For instance, if certain strategic fences are removed in Clark Street, then you can have a drive through of several streets in the community, so you make it more accessible. There needs to be a development of that whole area of that community to see what can be done for that community.

She added that some residents in the zone have complained that the checking in and checking out at various check points set up by the lawmen is tedious and tiresome, but appealed to residents for corporation.

“I am saying if you are taking the children out, leave a little earlier, because you know you will be stopped,” she advised.

Last Sunday, Holness, accompanied by National Security Minister Robert Montague, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, Attorney General and Member of Parliament for St James North Western Marlene Malahoo Forte, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Dr Horace Chang, and senior members of the joint forces visited several communities in the area.

Holness said that the visit was very useful as it gave the NSC a chance to see how the operation was working and to get a feedback from citizens.

He said, although there were some concerns from residents, most were satisfied with the operation.

And, during the tour of Piggott Street and Crawford Street in Mount Salem, the prime minister told the residents that the operation was about facilitating and empowering them.

“We will be helping as much as we can, because it is not just about a police/military operation. I am here to get a better understand to see the services that you need in terms of sanitation, road repairs, gully cleaning, water, and so on, so at the end of this process your community will be in a better place,” Holness remarked.

He later announced at a press conference that a special fund has been established to assist student having challenges with back-to-school expenses, including the cost of school identification cards.

“For general back-to-school support the fund will be allocated based on information provided by guidance counsellors who will communicate with the zone commanders and social agencies who will distribute on a needs basis,” the prime minister said.

He stressed that as part of the social intervention initiatives that will be undertaken in the Mount Salem area, a community services fair will be held in the area this weekend.

The two-day fair, which will be held on Saturday and Sunday at the Mount Salem playfield, will include a wide array of services including civil registration, health and social protection, employment and skills training.

Meanwhile, a senior cop, who expressed that there has been a noticeable lull in killings and shootings in St James since Friday's declaration of the ZOSO, is cautiously optimistic that the calm will remain throughout the remainder of the year.

In fact, up to yesterday there was no report of murder in the parish, over the last six days.

Additional reporting by Mark

TURN H/line: 'There are bad men in Mount Salem but no gangs'

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