Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Chang: We’re not out of ideas to fight crime

West grapples with ongoing violence as challenges persist in collaring criminals

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2024 | 12:11 AMAdrian Frater - Sunday Gleaner Writer
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang consoles Marlene Nation, who lost her son and grandson to gun violence in Johnson Town, Hanover, last week.
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang consoles Marlene Nation, who lost her son and grandson to gun violence in Johnson Town, Hanover, last week.
The home in Duanvale, Trelawny, where four persons were murdered last October.
The home in Duanvale, Trelawny, where four persons were murdered last October.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

With nearly 200 murders since the start of the year in the county of Cornwall despite the rollout of several initiatives, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has indicated that it will take some time to break the back of crime.

“The situation is not out of control and we have not run out of ideas,” he told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday as he visited Hanover in the aftermath of the killing of five men in three separate incidents between Thursday midday and Friday morning.

“The situation was allowed to spread – literally – or developed to a point where it will take some time to get it under control [with] significant investment in the expansion of the police,” Chang said.

Over recent months, there have major changes to the region’s command structure, with new police commanders installed in St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland – all hotbeds of rampant criminality, sparked by gang conflicts, primarily driven by feuding over the proceeds of criminal activities and a bid to control turf.

Western Jamaica is expected to generate the bulk of the projected US$4.1 billion in earnings expected from tourism this year and the lion’s share of the earnings from the outsourcing sector.

St James, a major hub of tourism and the outsourcing sector, is the most murderous parish in the west, causing concern among residents and business interests. In recent years, it has seen initiatives such as zones of special operations, states of public emergency, Operation Restore Paradise, the creation of an Elite Quick Response Motorcycle Patrol, and the recently rolled out Beat Officer Patrol Division, but the concerns linger.

Chang explained that despite numerous initiatives leading to the arrest and charging of numerous gangsters, the difficulty lies in securing convictions and removing them from the streets due to victims’ reluctance to pursue justice through the formal legal system.

“ … All the people who are now involved, who we are looking for, are people who have been locked up for other reasons … ,” he said last week. “And of course, in the criminal underworld, nobody gives evidence on each other, so by the time you lock them up and they are to go to court, even with good lawyers, they tell you that they are not pursuing anything or they change their statement in court. So everybody comes back on the street with the intention of settling their issues on the streets, unfortunately.”

He said that the police are making progress in getting more citizens to cooperate with investigations and the court process, “but, as I said, it will take some time”.

Added Chang: “There are too many young men and too many guns available, and too many men who are willing to use the gun to kill their friends.”

Marlene Nation, who lost a son and grandson in a triple murder in Johnson Town, Hanover, on Thursday, pleaded for an end to the violence last week.

“I am feeling a pain in my chest. I feel like I am going to die. Dem kill mi son and mi grandson, who mi grow from him six weeks old, for what?” she questioned as she mourned.

“This thing must stop. It is mashing up Jamaica and destroying families,” she said, crying, as Chang sought to console her during a visit to her home.

Senior Superintendent Glenford Miller, who recently took over as the commander for Area One (St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and Trelawny) got a first-hand taste of the region’s lawlessness last week when he and his security detail were fired on by gunmen along Kent Avenue in Montego Bay. The attack came just hours after Miller warned criminals that violence would not be allowed to continue under his watch.

A former member of the JCF is calling on Police Commissioner Dr Kevin Blake to deliver on a promise made by one of his predecessors in 2017 to establish a branch of the then-named Mobile Reserve Unit (now Specialised Operations Branch) in western Jamaica, noting that the ability of the police to respond quickly to criminal activities is key to a successful pushback against gangsters.

The former lawman said that having acquired substantial wealth through illicit schemes – such as lottery scamming, the transnational drug trade, gun trafficking and other vices – the modern-day gangsters are no longer typical criminals.

“We are now facing a new breed of criminals. They are cash-rich, so they can invest in fast cars, high-powered weapons, the best available [and] communication gadgets, and unlike the generation of gangsters before them, they are not hiding in bushes and deep rural communities again. They can afford to hole up in guest houses and hotels,” added the former lawman.

Like his other newly installed commanders, Superintendent Andrew Nish, who has hit the ground running in Hanover, is ready to take the fight to the criminals.

“I have one simple message for these gangsters, and it is that we cannot co-exist together here in Hanover, and I am here to stay and make this parish safe for law-abiding citizens and those who are investing in its economic development,” said Nish.

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