JIS News

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mark Shields, is highly confident that the Major Investigations Taskforce (MIT) and the Hot Spot Secretariat when established, will significantly improve the way crimes and homicides in particular, are investigated and solved in the island. DCP Shields tells JIS News, that the Hot Spot Secretariat will target crime-riddled areas, noting that there are hot spots in every police division in Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine. These hot spots, he says, are defined by intelligence, according to the number of crimes that are being committed, as well as other factors that might be defined by the officers on the ground.
“So, at any one time, there could be up to eight hot spots in any one division. For example, there was a flare-up recently in Waterhouse and there is a danger of reprisal killings, so what we do is to be intelligence-led and to ensure that we deploy the police before we have a crisis,” he says. Hot spots are defined in terms of green, amber and red. “Green means that it (the community) may be volatile from time to time, but things are relatively calm; amber means that we’ve got a developing problem and again, from the intelligence, the analysis and crime statistics, we can tell that something is brewing. If it’s red, then that’s a serious problem,” DCP Shields explains.
Citing the communities of Craig Town and Jones Town, as classic examples of crime hot spots in Kingston, DCP Shields says that up until Christmas of last year, the communities were amber to red. “We implemented plans and it’s now back at green again.
That doesn’t mean that we can just walk away and leave, but we have to consider what the policing need is and quite often that changes. I think the lesson that we learn is that we have to be sufficiently flexible to go with the intelligence and to move our resources accordingly, rather than waiting for 20 people to be killed,” he states.
Outlining how the Hot Spot Secretariat will function, DCP Shields informs that it “brings together various strands of information that the Force (Jamaica Constabulary) already has, for example, crime statistics, intelligence reports, crime analysis and mapping of where crimes are actually happening. What we want to do is to bring that all together to produce a regular strategic threat assessment that informs divisional commanders of the direction in which policing should be going, and where they should be deploying their resources”. There will be two types of assessments – a national threat assessment, which is an overview of each of the police areas, and a local hot spot threat assessment. “So, it may be that at a time when somewhere is on amber to red, the assessments will come out far more frequently to inform the divisional commander and others about what is happening on the ground and what we should be doing to remedy it,” he explains.
Asked when the Secretariat will be established, DCP Shields says, “when we have the resources. The problem that we always have is office accommodation, sufficient computers, staff, and training. The goodwill is there, we want to do these things, and the government supports what we want to do, but implementation is always a problem because we do not have all the resources that we need to do what we need to do”.
He says that while there is no budget for the Secretariat at this time, the implementation will not be a costly exercise as, “what we are doing is organizing the resources that we already have to utilize them in a far more effective and efficient way”. Turning to the role of the Major Investigation Taskforce, DCP Shields says that this is one of the means by which the police will investigate murders, particularly those related to shootings in Kingston and St. Andrew, using specified standards.
“At the moment, each division has a responsibility for murders and shootings, but quite often, (for example) those who perpetrate those particular crimes might live in Kingston eastern, but commit them in Kingston central, or those who live in Kingston western might commit them in Kingston central,” the Deputy Commissioner expounds. He stresses that a far more holistic approach needs to be taken to bring all of this type of information together, to raise the standard of investigation, and ensure “that the response that we have on every occasion is professional and effective. So, the reason for the Taskforce is to bring those together, to have as I call it, a taskforce approach to murder”. He notes that implementing the Taskforce will mean “re-organising the resources that we already have from the divisions, so effectively, the divisions would lose some of their detectives to the Taskforce, but with the detectives would also come some of the serious crimes that they were investigating in those divisions.” He says that this strategy would in essence lighten the caseload of police personnel, leading to more effective investigations and crime solving.
“What we really want to move away from is a detective sergeant on a division like St. Andrew South, with a case load of say 20 murders.which is untenable, because it is impossible to investigate that number of cases. With this approach, we would be able to manage and prioritise the investigations far more effectively”. The MIT will be managed by Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Leslie Green.
While the MIT is one means of improving the quality of investigations, ACP Shields also points to improving forensic capabilities, and the training of crime scene officers and investigators. “We are in the process of working with other stakeholders involved in the criminal justice system to ensure that we work together far more effectively, in order to ensure that the cases that go to court are dealt with expediently,” he informs.
DCP Shields adds that confidence in the Director of Public Prosecutions’ case management system is also important as in the past, there have been criticisms that persons have been charged with serious criminal offences, although the evidence is not as good as it should be. “So, we need to improve on that. But having said that, if we have a criminal justice system that is overburdened and slow, then that (improved investigations) isn’t actually going to help, so it’s not just about the police, its about improving the whole system,” he asserts.
To this end, several pieces of legislation have been updated and put in place. “We already have the Plea Bargaining legislation, and the Fingerprints Act, which was passed last year. In terms of crime in general, we are looking at ways in which we can improve and make better money laundering and assets seizure legislation,” DCP Shields says.
In addition, he says he is in active dialogue with the Ministry of National Security and other government agencies, for the establishment of a national deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) database. Where forensics is concerned, Dr. Judith Mowatt was recently appointed as director of the police forensic laboratory. “That was the first step to ensure that we have the right leadership,” Mr. Shields states.
Investment has been made in new computer equipment, which is now being delivered and installed and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has made a US$5 million donation to assist with procuring equipment, to improve forensic capability.
“On top of that, we have arranged with the Metropolitan Police Service (Scotland Yard) for a review of the laboratory to ensure that it meets the requisite standard. My hope is that there will be a further investment from the public and private sectors to improve DNA capability and to develop DNA technology,” DCP Shields informs.
He makes further note of the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), and the Automatic Fingerprint Information System (AFIS), both of which are being implemented this year. “Both of those projects will significantly improve our overall forensic capability,” he remarks. “We have appointed a new Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police, Denver Frater, who replaces George Williams, who recently went on leave prior to retirement. Mr. Frater previously worked on Kingfish and is currently in charge of the CIB (Criminal Investigation Bureau). Between me as the head of the crime portfolio and Frater and Green, we are going to improve the way in which we investigate crime, to raise the standards significantly over the years to come,” DCP Shields tells JIS News.
However, he says, this advancement will take time. “We recognise that there are significant resource shortages, but we feel that we can still improve on the service that we provide,” he assures.
The proof, he says, is in the fact that this year, the country has experienced a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in homicides. “We have been able to achieve that through existing resources.my view is that if we actually get the MIT and the Hot Spot Secretariat up and running effectively, if we improve some of the resources that we have, I think that we can turn 20 per cent into 30 per cent and go on from strength to strength from there,” the Deputy Commissioner says.
Commenting on the challenges of day-to-day policing, DCP Shields says that lack of trust and confidence in the police, are perhaps the major stumbling blocks to effective policing. “For every police officer who does a really good job, there is another one who appears to disrupt that by unprofessional conduct. The good police officers outweigh the bad. The thing that I am trying to build more than anything is trust and confidence,” he points out.
He says that there are continued efforts to bridge this rift, with Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas, maintaining an open door policy and DCP Shields has himself, made his cellular phone number public. “I have had thousands of calls and they have been very productive in terms of solving murders, recovering firearms, reporting corrupt police officers. People have also phoned to say to the police, thank you for doing a good job,” he discloses. In addition, the Crime Stop and Kingfish initiatives have borne fruit. “There are many ways in which we are reaching out to the public,” he says, noting that the PSOJ line is also open once per month, allowing persons to call in and have one-on-one dialogue with four senior officers of the Force, which may include himself, and the Police Commissioner. “All of those initiatives help with trust and confidence,” he stresses.
DCP Shields further commended the “excellent” work that is being done by ACP Novelette Grant, Head of the Professional Standards Branch, in terms of the number of police officers, who have been arrested in connection with corruption. “I believe that the Anti-Corruption Strategy launched last year is starting to work, but again, we have more work to do,” Deputy Commissioner Shields comments.
In January, Commissioner Thomas unveiled an eight-point action plan designed to reduce the country’s murder rate by five per cent by the end of the calendar year.
He said the murder reduction plan was devised following discussions with the police high command and key officers on the ground. DCP Shields was assigned overall coordinating responsibility for the plan.