House Approves Resolution to Extend State of Public Emergency in St. James

Story Highlights

  • The House of Representatives on Tuesday (May 1), approved the Emergency Powers (Continuance) Resolution 2018, which will extend the State of Public Emergency in St. James until August 2, 2018.
  • The State of Public Emergency was announced and declared in St. James on January 18 by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness.
  • In his address in the House, Prime Minister Holness reiterated that St. James was selected for a State of Public Emergency in response to increasing criminal activities, including inter-gang conflict and murder.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday (May 1), approved the Emergency Powers (Continuance) Resolution 2018, which will extend the State of Public Emergency in St. James until August 2, 2018.

All 53 members of the Lower House who were present voted unanimously in favour of the motion. Ten members were absent.

The State of Public Emergency was announced and declared in St. James on January 18 by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness.

On January 18, the Governor-General, by Proclamation, declared that a State of Public Emergency exists in the parish of St. James, and further declared that the said Proclamation shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force for 14 days or for such longer period, not exceeding three months, as both Houses of Parliament may determine by a Resolution supported by a two-thirds majority of all members of each House.

In his address in the House, Prime Minister Holness reiterated that St. James was selected for a State of Public Emergency in response to increasing criminal activities, including inter-gang conflict and murder.

“In 2017, the Parish of St. James recorded 335 murders and commenced 2018 with a surge of violent incidents. As at (April 30), 62 less murders have occurred compared to the corresponding period last year,” he stated.

Mr. Holness noted that the enhanced security measure was a necessary requirement for holding and preserving the rule of law and maintaining public order.

He added that the State of Public Emergency gives the security forces extraordinary powers to protect the citizens, through a suite of operations to bring the high levels of violence and crime under control.

The Prime Minister cited concerns raised about the number of persons detained under the enhanced measures.

“It is important that this Parliament understands… and all the other stakeholders understand that the detentions are not done arbitrarily,” he said.

He informed that the actions of the police in conducting the detentions are guided by the preparation of what is called a hotspot mapping of the area, which is paired with the intelligence data available to the security forces on people in the areas.

“The police also use existing records of outstanding warrants. Quite a number of persons who have been detained were held based on the fact that they have outstanding warrants. In other words, they were already interdicted by the law-enforcement system, warrants were there for their arrests, but the police simply couldn’t find them,” Mr. Holness explained.

He added that with the State of Emergency, the security forces were able to identify these persons. In addition to that, Mr. Holness said the police within the area of enhanced security measures would have had a prepared offenders’ list with people who they know to be repeat offenders.

“That is how police have operated. It is not a wanton use of the extraordinary powers that they have, and so I want to assure the nation that this Administration has ensured that the extraordinary powers given to the security forces are not used in an arbitrary way,” he said.

The most recent data show that 133 persons have been arrested and charged, including 22 for murder.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Holness said the persons who have been detained have been treated within the safe custody standards of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

“There have been no major complaints of human rights infringement,” he stated.

He also added that residents in St. James are happy for the State of Public Emergency, as it has resulted in a reduction in murders and a return to greater order and discipline in the parish.

During the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and detain persons without a warrant. It also gives them power to stop and question persons and power to seize property. It allows them to control public gatherings and control movements.

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