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JIS News

Commanding Officer of the Major Investigation Task Force (MIT), Superintendent Selvin Hay, says that the unit’s approach to investigating gun-related murders should be replicated across the island.In an interview with JIS News, Superintendent Hay said that the expansion will start in St. Catherine and he is hoping that Clarendon and St. James will be next.
“Our number one problem right now is homicide, and if we can get the capability to approach the investigations in a focused way across the island, that would be a great reward to the Jamaica Constabulary Force(JCF) and Jamaica,” he said.He said the expansion of the unit would also allow JCF personnel to become exposed to the MIT’s type of investigating and, hopefully, adopt some of its principles.
He also expressed optimism that some MIT personnel will be able to go to various police divisions, while personnel from the divisions come into the MIT, and help spread the principle of a focused approach to investigations.
“I know that out there, it is difficult to focus, the way that we do. We are dedicated to investigating murders and the shootings that accompany them, while the detective at the division level has to be looking at all the major crimes – murders, rape, shootings, burglary. So they can’t dedicate the time and energy and focus on a particular investigation, as we do,” he states. The MIT is a division of the Serious and Organised Crime Branch of the JCF, which is headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green, and which investigates gun-related crimes in Kingston and St. Andrew. It also provides support when it is directed to intervene in, collaborating with divisions and operational arms such as the Mobile Reserve. Explaining the difference between Operation Kingfish and the MIT, Superintendent Hay said that while Kingfish targets major gang leaders, the MIT goes after all gun-related murderers.
He explained that a number of the cases are sensitive, in terms of safeguarding the witnesses.”The safety of the witness is always paramount. We try to do our cases in such a way that the investigation is completed before we arrest. So that when we arrest the perpetrators, and they are before the court, there is hardly anything left to be done and the cases can go to trial, quickly,” he explains.
On witness protection, he said that the programme has always been secure, and has never been breached, although he admits that there is concern about the need for additional financial resources.
In his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, last month, National Security Minister, Senator Trevor MacMillan, said that the MIT was developing its own community contacts and that it acts independently, where necessary, to reassure and protect vulnerable victims and witnesses.
He said that one of the major indicators of success so far, has been the number of vulnerable witnesses who have come forward with statements where, previously, they may have feared reprisals, or felt that they could not trust the police.
Superintendent Hay said that although the MIT has been in existence since 2006, because of the resource constraints, it could not take on cases en bloc from the start.
In 2007, investigations in one division was taken on as a pilot, followed by selected cases across the Corporate Area, until May, 2007, when it was able to fully take on investigating cases in the Corporate Area.
“Around that time, we were seeing an increase in murders in the Corporate Area, over 2006,” he notes. However, by December 2008, there was a 12% reduction in gun murders in the Corporate Area.
But, he admitted that the MIT was not solely responsible, as the team works closely with various divisions and operational arms.
There was also an increase in the clear-up rate, which is where the MIT had an impact because of the quality of investigations it carries out.
“It ended up with us seeing a 34% clear up rate, which was better than what it was the year before. Come 2009, the target that we have set is at least a 40% increase. That is our minimal goal,” he says. Superintendent Hay says investigators must be patient and able to communicate well. They must have an analytical mind and the aptitude to be personable in communicating with the public, so that citizens feel positive about cooperating.
“You have to have an open mind. If we should embark on our investigations with preconceived notions, then you will find that we would skew the investigation a particular way, disregard what the investigation is saying and then we wouldn’t be investigating, we would be embarking on a vendetta,” he went on.
In addition, he points out, that forensics play a vital role in successfully investigating cases as, in reality, eyewitnesses are getting scarcer.
“We have to rely heavily on forensics and other physical evidence to help to bring clarity to some of the cases. The eyewitness is still valuable, but the evidence is one of the easiest things to challenge and to cast doubt upon. When you have the scientific evidence, it can withstand greater scrutiny,” he notes.
The Task Force boasts its own forensic capability, with response teams comprising two forensic crime scene investigators (scenes of crime officers) and two criminal investigators.
The response teams provide immediate practical support to the first officers on the scene and prioritize the search for witnesses, suspects and the collection of forensic evidence.
Although the MIT was fashioned with the advent of international police officers from Britain in Jamaica, there was always a search on to find a model for centralized homicide investigation capabilities. He recalls that in the 1990s, the homicide team based at Spanish Town Road, Kingston, did remarkable work but was not structured in the way that the MIT is structured, nor did it have the same type of resources.
“From then we realized that one of the ways to combat our high homicide rate, was to find a way to put together some good investigators and to approach investigation in a centralized and focused way,” he adds.
“The concept came to us from Britain, and a lot of plans were in place to put together such a team. It didn’t happen back then, for some reason, but with the advent of the international police officers, such as ACP Les Green and DCP Mark Shields and others, the mandate was given to put it together,” he says.
New initiatives were undertaken in 2008, to improve the MIT’s ability to solve cases. These included: training in financial crime investigation and crime zone mapping and advanced training for forensic scene of crime officers.
In addition, more vehicles were provided, seminars on intellectual property enforcement, video identification and fugitive investigation were held.
The initiatives have been undertaken as part of a new approach to crime-fighting and, simultaneously, a new structure and new operating procedures have been adopted to provide for improved supervision and oversight, with built-in mechanisms for accountability and review, Senator MacMillan told Parliament.