Since the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Corporate Area on May 23rd which was later extended to St. Catherine, the Police and the Military have been conducting an intensive campaign to reduce the level of crime and violence that have plagued the country for many years. The results have been positive and encouraging. For the first time that most of us can recall, the criminal elements have been shaken and they are on the run.
Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding
For the first five months of this year, we were experiencing almost five murders per day. We are now down to slightly over two per day. In fact, violent crime is trending downward to levels not seen in this country for many years. But the battle has not yet been won. Two murders per day is still too high. Two per day must become the high water mark that we must do everything possible to bring down. Many of the vicious gunmen who will take your life without batting an eye are in hiding; they are not yet behind bars. Most of the guns have been hidden; they have not yet been taken away.
It was the Security Forces that, based on intelligence, strongly recommended that a State of Emergency be imposed in the first instance on May 23rd. It was they who, in a letter I received on June 14th – eight days before that first one-month period was due to expire – requested that it be extended for a further three months and also expanded to include St. Catherine.
The Cabinet, after careful consideration and mindful of the extraordinary powers we were invoking, decided to seek Parliament’s approval for an extension of only one month in order to allow for a proper assessment by the Security Forces as to whether any further extension would be needed. We have relied on the professional judgement of the Security Forces and, in particular, the Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff.
On Monday, I received a letter signed by both of them urging that the State of Emergency be extended for one more month and that it be expanded to include the parish of Clarendon. This recommendation was again based on intelligence which indicated that a significant number of criminal activists had fled into other communities and were attempting to regroup. In addition, ongoing investigations and securing witness statements that would enable the Police to charge several persons who were detained under the State of Emergency would be seriously hampered if they were released back into their strongholds.
The current State of Emergency is set to expire at midnight tomorrow. Yesterday, we sought the approval of the House for a one-month extension. The Constitution requires that such a resolution be passed not just by a simple majority but by a majority of all 60 members of the House, i.e., a minimum of 31. The government has 32 members in the House. Four of these had to be off the island on official business. Two others are away for personal reasons including serious illness of a family member. The support of the Opposition was therefore needed to authorize the extension. That support was not forthcoming.
During the debate, the Opposition opposed the extension, in effect opposing the strong recommendations made by the security forces, and when the vote was taken its members all abstained so we were not able to secure the required votes. The State of Emergency will, therefore, come to an end tomorrow. What this means is that the Police and the Military will no longer have the benefit of emergency powers in pursuing their operations. They will have to revert to the normal powers that existed prior to May 23rd.
Let me be quite clear. Emergency powers must never become a permanent or even medium-term tool for fighting crime. But, given the level of crime in Jamaica and the brazen and organized nature of that crime, it was considered necessary in the short term in order to break the back of this monster, rid the streets of the main perpetrators and create the conditions where normal policing can be effective.
The Opposition and others have advanced essentially two arguments: (1) that the conditions to justify a State of Emergency as set out in the Constitution do not exist; and (2) that there are adequate powers in the Constabulary Force Act including cordon and search to effectively deal with crime.
The Constitution provides for a State of Emergency in various circumstances including a state of war, natural or man-made disasters, outbreak of disease or other calamity and the threat of action which endangers public safety. For too long, desperate criminals have kept the society in a state of crisis as far as public safety is concerned. We are not the only ones who have faced this type of crisis. The United States declared a national emergency after 9/11. It has been extended several times, the most recent being by President Obama in September last year and it is still in place because it is considered that the threat still exists.
Secondly, the powers of cordon and curfew have been in place since 1994 but that has not prevented the crime rate from reaching record levels. We are in no doubt that the State of Emergency was necessary and a further extension would have enabled us to more effectively disrupt the criminal networks and put more of the criminals behind bars.
I wish to thank the men and women of the Police and Military for the hard work and long hours they have been putting into these emergency operations. I wish to commend them for the way in which they have conducted themselves. Wherever instances of abuse have been reported, the leadership has sought to investigate them and, where necessary, take corrective action and those who are culpable are being brought to account. Residents in some communities have been inconvenienced but it is the price we must ask them to pay to enable us to deal with the extraordinary phenomenon that crime has proven to be.
Earlier today, I met with the High Command of the Police and the Military. I had previously directed them to prepare a strategic plan to enable the current intensive operations to be continued after the State of Emergency would have ended. In light of what transpired in Parliament yesterday, we discussed the fast-tracking of that plan which must now be put into effect on Friday. Tomorrow, the Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff will outline those aspects of the plan that can be divulged.
In going forward, the Police and the Military will need to rely even more heavily on the support and cooperation of the public in providing information on where the criminals are hiding, where the guns are hidden. We are putting in place additional measures to protect witnesses to better enable the Police to lay charges and secure convictions. We have secured the cooperation of the Courts and the DPP in fast-tracking the trial of cases involving serious crimes and high-profile offenders.
Additional equipment for the security forces is being procured and the government is working with the private sector to secure additional vehicles within the shortest possible time. The six anti-crime Bills which have been passed by Parliament will be brought into effect immediately after they receive the assent of the Governor-General. Work is being done as a matter of utmost priority on the Organized Crime Act which will include specific powers to deal with criminal gangs. Much greater use is now being made of the Proceeds of Crime Act including the provisions for civil forfeiture to help in disabling the activities of crime bosses. The development of a coordinated programme of social intervention to make persons in fragile communities, especially young men, less vulnerable to engagement in criminal activity is well advanced.
We must continue the battle. We cannot allow the gains that have been made over the past two months to be lost. Too much is at stake. There is a sense of relief and growing confidence that many people throughout Jamaica have felt in recent times. No matter what obstacles are placed in our way, we cannot return to a situation where people were constantly fearful and frightened.
The efforts of the Police and Military over the last two months have had a game-changing effect. We have seen what can be accomplished when there is the will and unity of purpose. We have shown that the monster of crime can be confronted and defeated. The non- extension of the State of Emergency is a setback but the battle can be won, must be won and will be won.
May God bless all of Jamaica.