JIS News

Curfews and raids have become successful crime fighting tools of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), with the operations leading to the discovery of hundreds of illegal firearms this year alone, and the arrests of criminals.
In fact, the 22 curfews imposed and the 14,208 raids conducted this year were responsible for the recovery of some 436 illegal firearms, and some 13,077 other types of offensive weapons, says Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington.
During these operations some 6,885 persons were detained with 642 arrests made for various crimes as well as the execution of some 5,025 warrants. “Other arrests made from information gathered on these operations totalled 14,509 so there is a significant success rate for most of these kind of proactive operations that we do (which is) a combination of targeted raids, spot checks and the use of cordons and searches,” he tells JIS News.But even with the level of success, many persons are still not clear on what defines a curfew, cordon or raid and how exactly they should function during these operations.
According to ACP Ellington, the police requests a curfew when there is a sudden or dramatic upsurge in serious crimes in a community or when there is intelligence indicating that this is likely.
“We then make a formal request to the Minister of National Security indicating the boundaries within which we would want to impose a curfew,” he explains, adding that this was provided under Section 50 of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (Amendment) Act of 1994. A curfew, is usually requested for a maximum of 48 hours, which can be extended by a further request to the Security Minister, if needs be.
Even though there are times when curfews and raids are carried out simultaneously, ACP Ellington explains that they are somewhat different operations. Explaining the difference between both, he says that in the case of a curfew, a cordon is imposed around a particular area for containment purposes.
“During a curfew, there is restriction on the movement of persons in and out of the zone under curfew. Persons may however be allowed to go about their lawful business but with the permission of the ground commander, who is the senior police officer on the ground managing the operation,” he says.
ACP Ellington says that raids are intelligence driven and are for shorter periods and usually targets a particular premises or a particular group of premises. Another main distinction, he notes, is that there is no requirement for the police to get approval from the Minister to do a raid, unlike the curfew.
He further informs that curfews serve good purposes where there is a significant upsurge in criminal violence, which makes normal policing almost ineffective. “A curfew is really for containment and to reassure the citizens and to start to build back the confidence bubble of the community-based police persons. Once we are able to restore that level of normality, then the traditional policing approach is taken,” he states.
Responding to public perception that certain communities are “targeted for curfews and heavy-handed treatment” while other communities are “let off the hook,” ACP Ellington assures that this is definitely not the case.
“Communities are not chosen for curfews where there is a serious crime problem and there is a serious concern about officers’ safety and community safety. A curfew is imposed because it has a containment value, it enables us to quickly contain an explosive situation,” he clarifies.
He further adds, “it is not that we go about looking or choosing communities. The intelligence comes up and it can come up suddenly (as) there are some places where you have in a matter of 48 hours a sudden upsurge in gun violence, burning of houses and citizens being forced to move out”.
According to him, once a curfew is imposed, it has several effects, one of which is to contain activity within a small geographical area. “It stops it in many instances,” he says, “as the criminals who are perpetrating are either locked in or chased away from the area. This gives the police an opportunity to start doing some investigation, reassuring the residents, getting some additional intelligence and various other things”.
Even with the success of curfews, ACP Ellington tells JIS News that they are not used very often, as they infringe on the normal rights and freedoms of citizens. “Only 22 have been requested so far this year and this compares to well over 14,000 raids and over 30,000 spot checks and other such activities because these are less restrictive and they infringe less on the rights of citizens,” he says.
Curfews are usually announced once they are in place, so that citizens will understand what is being done. “We want persons to know that we are doing this for their safety and we appeal to them to cooperate with the police and we usually indicate how long it will be held so that people can understand that the inconvenience will not be forever,” he explains.
Cordon and search is another effective crime fighting method used by the police. According to ACP Ellington, a cordon and search is approved by the Commissioner of Police on the request of a local commander for a small geographical area to be cordoned off for a short period of time for detailed, systematic searches. In this instance, there is no restriction of the movement of citizens.
From experience, ACP Ellington says citizens overwhelmingly support these operations because they understand that it is done for their own safety and for the safety of their communities. In many instances, he notes, it is the only opportunity that some of these citizens get to move about in their communities freely.
“There are some areas where right now the streets are bare because of the tension in those areas but if you impose extraordinary police presences in these areas, citizens start coming out on the road, moving about freely because the presence of the police is reassuring to them,” he says.
ACP Ellington tells JIS News that in carrying out these operations, the police is faced with many challenges, one of which was the lack of personnel to adequately man the areas.
“In many communities, they are so unstructured or rundown in terms of the infrastructure that you do not have the advantage of straight line visibility and therefore you have to put a lot of persons where smaller numbers could suffice. There is poor lighting in some areas and therefore the effects of a cordon are diminished during nightfall. Sometimes there is raw sewage flowing on the streets in the community and .the police, who have to be posted at a particular position for an extended period of time, they do get sick having to deal with this situation,” he explains.
Both the police and the military work together during a curfew with the soldiers assisting in establishing cordons and manning the positions.
“We could hardly manage some of these curfews if we didn’t have the kind of support that we get from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF),” ACP Ellington says, adding that, “in situations where it is anticipated that we may be engaged in high intensity violence or confrontation, the presence and capability of the JDF is usually very helpful for us not just in terms of building on what we have, but it also bolsters the confidence of the policemen in those tough areas”. Turning to the issue of crime, ACP Ellington says he is encouraged by the crime statistics.
For example, he notes that in March of this year there was a 52 per cent increase in murders over the corresponding period last year, but by November, the growth rate has been reduced by 12 per cent.
“In March, we were looking at almost 40 per cent increase in shootings and at this time of the year we are negative 2 percent compared to last year, so we are going into decline with shootings. In terms of other serious crimes, we are seeing a decline. For example, rape it is down 23 per cent; carnal abuse is down 20 per cent; robberies are down 13 per cent; breakings down 16 per cent; and larceny is down 29 per cent,” he informs.
He notes that while the figures are encouraging, they were far from ideal, but “we hope we can build on these in our preparations to manage situations next year. We hope that we can in fact effect a turnaround in the murders and the shootings and start to see the kind of declines that we want to have to make this place a safer and more comfortable place.”

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