(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – AFTER 48 murders since the start of 2018 in the St Catherine North police division, including Spanish Town, the government yesterday insisted that the declaration of a state of public emergency in the area was justified.
The security forces said at a press briefing at Jamaica House, to make the declaration public, that the operation will primarily focus on the notorious Klansman gang, which operates primarily out of the parish capital Spanish Town, and which has been involved in a violent internal conflict which has led to numerous murders over the few years.
According to Acting Commissioner of Police, Clifford Blake, ongoing internal feuds within the gang has been basically at the root of the increase in murders across the parish, as well as neighbouring parishes, such as Clarendon and St Ann, and which has increased significantly the number of murders since the beginning of 2018.
“They are a threat to public safety and the rule of law, and intelligence assessments indicate the possibility of a further increase in their criminal activities, due their intra-gang conflict,” Blake told the press briefing.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Observer that, as is required under the Emergency Powers Act, the Governor General has signed the proclamation to introduce emergency for an initial 14 days, after which an extension would have to be approved by Parliament.
He said that an Emergency Powers Review Tribunal will be named soon, and he also assured the press that he would address Parliament on the issue, at the earliest opportunity.
Holness noted that under the enhanced security measures, the security forces will have extraordinary powers and some rights will be suspended.
“The security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, access to places and to detain persons without a warrant,” he explained.
He also pointed out that persons using all roads into and out of St Catherine North will be subject to vehicle and personal search.
Explaining the situation in St Catherine North, Blake said that despite several activities by the police to control the internal violence within the gang, which is mainly based in areas of Spanish Town, including March Pen Road, as well as in more rural areas such as Linstead and Bog Walk, and neighbouring parishes such as Clarendon and St Ann, they have contributed significantly to the 48 murders recorded in the division since the start of 2018, compared with 21 over the same period of 2017.
There were 136 murders during 2017, and given the threat to the rule of law the security forces have anticipated a significant increase in murders this year, as well as robberies and acts of extortion.
Blake said that given the threat to the rule, of law, the security forces recommended to the Government the need to introduce the enhanced measures.
Chief of Defence Staff Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Major General Rocky Meade, told the briefing that the security forces would also be assisted by recruits of the recently introduced Jamaica National Services Corps.
He said that 241 JNSC personnel will be deployed in the area, under the command of experienced soldiers, primarily for operation support and administrative activities as their final hurdle before being absorbed into the JDF.
General Meade also called on the residents of the affected communities to support the efforts and to make contact with the security forces through the 24-hour hotline number 827-8888, to provide information on the criminals and criminal activities.
“This is a key component of our intelligence and data gathering assets,” he said, noting that the names and pictures of several suspects, as well as bulletins, social media images and data about wanted persons will also be released.
He said that he was confident that if the communities give the security the same level of support as residents of St James have done in the first state of emergency declared in January, it will be successful.