The new government, through the Ministry of National Security, has been putting strategies in place to tackle crime and violence in the island over its first 100 days in office.
With Hon. Peter Bunting at the helm of the Ministry, the numbers of murders committed up to March were lower than figures recorded during the second half of 2011.
“It is particularly encouraging that, so far, for March, murders are down to 2.5 per day, as opposed to three per day (in previous years) and this is the result of very intense operations in St. Catherine North (in particular), where we have hundreds of soldiers and mobile reserves deployed,” Mr. Bunting said.
In the meantime, Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington, said the first three months of the year yielded significant reductions in serious crimes.
“We started the year with a spike in murders in the first week of January, close to 40 murders. We have, since then, instituted some measures, which have significantly contained that situation…the weeks of March averaged under 15 murders. In fact, we completed the month of March with the lowest murder count for any single month in the last nine years,” he informed.
Of great significance, the Commissioner cited the sharp decline in sexual offences of rape and carnal abuse. He informed that rapes are down by 24 per cent, while carnal abuse is down by 51 per cent.
“We have shown significant improvement as well in our seizure of illegal firearms from criminal hands. Year to date, we have seized over 138 illegal firearms which compare to 122 for the similar period last year. We have, so far, seized over 1,400 rounds of assorted ammunition,” he said.
The Commissioner added that, year to date, fewer fatal shootings by the police have been recorded, than for the similar time last year. “Year to date, we have recorded 56 fatal shootings. Last year, up to the end of March, that number was 60,” he said.
In the meantime, the Minister pledged the Government’s commitment to initiate strategies to reduce the incidence of murders in Jamaica to less than one per day, by the year 2017.
“We are looking at, that by 2017, we will be 12 per 100,000, which would give you… a maximum murder figure of about 321 (per annum), less than one murder per day in 2017…that is our target. We are now slightly over three murders per day and that, if it was just a straight line reduction, would mean we need to reduce murders by 134 per year, over the next five years,” he said.
The government also reaffirmed its move to strengthen the legislative environment, to ensure law enforcement agencies are able to directly tackle current and emerging forms of criminality.
To this end, a draft of the Organised/Anti-Gang legislation is now ready and is being reviewed. Mr. Bunting said the bill is “an omnibus legislation targeting diverse and increasing range of criminal activities that will give us the means to target and dismantle criminal networks.”
Also, a DNA Bill is now with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and its passing will enhance the police’s investigative capacity, as well as provide a real alternative to the use of witnesses in serious violent cases.
Mr. Bunting informed that the provisions of the proposed Anti-Gang Legislation will also be revisited, while Cabinet is expected to issue drafting instructions for enactment of the new Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Bill, which will accelerate the process of culture change to achieve organisational and procedural reforms in line with modern policing services.
Meanwhile, as it relates to policy measures, the government is developing a new National Security Policy, as part of a long-term strategy to address crime and violence.
Mr. Bunting said the policy will be implemented in two phases, with work on the first phase already 80 per cent complete and should be ready this month, and the second phase soon thereafter.
Among the key elements of the strategy is the establishment of a national anti-corruption taskforce, which will among other things, target for seizure, the proceeds generated from crime, as well as focus on apprehending drug kingpins and other facilitators of illicit activities.
By the end of March, the police had made over 60 arrests and seized the assets of criminal organisations, as the authority intensifies its drive to dismantle these entities.
The Ministry, with the assistance of a United Nations-based consultant, is also introducing a small arms policy, to improve the regulation, movement and monitoring of small arms and ammunition, both legal and illicit.
The country’s effort at solving crime and reducing the number of unsolved cases was boosted with the donation of equipment valued at US$250,000 by the United States (US), to the JCF Forensic Science Laboratory.
In February, the US Government donated vehicles and protective gear valued at approximately $64 million to the JCF, including 20 motor vehicles, 500 ballistic vests, and 500 tactical uniforms.
Also in the month, the JCF received four motorbikes from Stewart Motors, which will be utilised in the police’s efforts to reduce robberies and related crimes, especially in the downtown and Half-Way-Tree areas of Kingston.
Also in February, the US Government pledged to provide the Ministry with a number of non-lethal equipment to assist the JCF in its efforts to reduce the number of police-related fatalities.
US Ambassador to Jamaica, Pamela Bridgewater, said starting later this year, her government will provide the Ministry with batons, handcuffs, pepper sprays and equipment belts for approximately 6,500 frontline officers attached to the JCF. She said the donations would be made over the course of three years.
The Minister, in March, signed a co-operation agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS), through which, among other things, it will be acquiring two Dot Peen machines will allow the authorities to trace weapons by placing marks on them, which cannot be easily erased, should they fall into the possession of criminals.
Approximately 4,000 weapons and about half tonne of small arms ammunition were destroyed during the period, in the drive to combat the illegal trade of firearms February during a disposal exercise.
Late February, the Barnett Street Police Station, in Montego Bay, St. James, which was refurbished at a cost of $7.4 million, was officially re-opened.
During the month of April, Mr. Bunting, informed that a plan is being formulated to guide the implementation of the proposed merger of the JCF and the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF).
The proposed merger, one of the recommendations coming out of the JCF Strategic Review, also speaks to combining the two management structures of the force – the Police Services Commission and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, as well as changing the name of the JCF to reflect a service oriented organisation rather than a force.
Also in April, Mr. Ellington, said the police will be adopting several new strategies regarding the use of force, which are intended to lessen the number of fatal incidents during operations. He said the new approach, is to be incorporated into the police’s standard operating procedures, as well as included in the firearms and tactical training for top rank officers.
He noted that as far as is practicable, members will be equipped with non-lethal weapons, such as pepper sprays, particularly those going on front line duty. Mr. Ellington said that this is a tactic that was already in train with some 2,000 pepper sprays deployed in the last year.
Also in April, Mr. Ellington, said the police are looking at utilising ‘shot spotter’ technology to assist with investigating gun-related incidents and crimes.
The technology utilises audio and visual sensors to detect and convey the location of gunfire or other weapon fire. This information is sent to a digital map indicating the addresses and times of the incidents.
Commissioner Ellington also informed that discussions are taking place for the build out of closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in many crime hotspots and built-up areas.