Members of the Senate have approved a further three-month extension of the State of Public Emergency in the St. Catherine North Police Division.
All 17 Senators attending Friday’s (June 29) sitting at Gordon House voted unanimously in favour of the extension under the Emergency Powers (Continuance) (No. 2) Resolution, 2018, which will see the enhanced security measure being maintained in the Division until October 2, 2018.
Addressing the sitting, Leader of Government Business in the Upper House and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, said the extension is needed for the continued success of the security forces’ crime fighting strategies being undertaken in the area.
She noted that citizens have also voiced their support for the extension and emphasized that “it is important that we respect their desire to live in circumstances where they are not (in) constant fear of extortion and murder.”
The Minister disclosed that the security measures implemented have, to date, yielded a 26 per cent reduction in murders and shootings in the Division.
“The State of Public Emergency… has saved and is saving lives… (and has) disrupted criminal and gang activities… (thereby enabling) neighbours (to now be) standing up outside and talking, children being able to safely go to school and parents to be safely able to go about their lawful business,” she said.
Mrs. Johnson Smith pointed out that the measures have also been bringing back a sense of law and order to the communities.
“You get feedback from the people who say, ‘don’t let it stop yet… keep the soldiers and the police there… life is better now’,” she added.
Senator Johnson Smith further noted that the State of Public Emergency forms part of institutional changes, policy enhancement, legislative amendments and operational strategies being undertaken by the Government.
Responding to a suggestion from the Leader of Opposition Business, Senator Donna Scott Mottley, that the State of Public Emergency be lifted to determine its effectiveness, Senator Johnson Smith argued that “now cannot be the time to test for an academic consideration”.
“It must be that if the heads of the security forces are saying to you – ‘now is not the time… (to) lift these measures (as) we cannot guarantee that we will not lose the gains that we have already made’… (that) it (is) a responsible Government that would say ‘we will go to Parliament and we will seek the extension that you need’,” she added.
Senator Johnson Smith said, however, that the Government “will undoubtedly test the effectiveness when the States of Emergencies are eventually lifted”.
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 warrants. It also gives them the power to stop and question persons, and seize property.
On March 18, the Governor-General, by Proclamation, declared a State of Public Emergency in the St. Catherine North Police Division.
He further declared that 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.
It was previously extended from May 3, 2018 until July 3, 2018.
The Constitution provides that a period of Public Emergency can be declared by Proclamation if the Governor-General is satisfied that action has been taken or threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as likely to endanger public safety.