Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, has announced a State of Public Emergency (SOE) in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine.
Speaking at a press conference at Jamaica House on Thursday (September 5), the Prime Minister said the SOE will remain in force, unless revoked, for a period of 14 days or for longer periods not exceeding three months.
He explained that the SOE has been declared as one of the security forces’ strategies to curtail criminal activities in these areas, particularly murders, which he said are mainly gang-related.
“The Government is not using the SOE as a substitute for regular policing. What the SOE does is to provide a respite in the number of crimes, particularly murders. It helps to expand the number of law-enforcement personnel that we have on the ground, it helps to restrict the free movement of the criminal enterprise and then that gives [the security forces] an increased ability to do their work,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson, said the high level of violent crime being experienced in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine since the start of the year, “is at a scale and nature such that it greatly endangers public safety”, hence the need for the SOE.
“The Clarendon Division has historically been one of the most violent regions in the country, with a number of gangs engaged in inter- and intra-gang conflicts or other criminal enterprise. Already, since the start of 2019, the Clarendon Division has recorded the second highest number of murders at 100. The St. Catherine South Police Division has seen an increase in murders of 50 per cent over last year’s number to currently sit at 91 murders since the beginning of the year,” he pointed out.
In terms of the St. Catherine North Division, Major General Anderson noted that while the area is experiencing a reduction of 14 per cent over last year, the division still has 66 murders so far this year.
The Commissioner said that the objectives of the SOE are to establish and maintain a period of low violent crime in the volatile communities within these parishes; to curtail the free movement of criminal gangs and weapons and deny them the opportunity to commit violent crimes; to disrupt criminal enterprise; and to provide the opportunity for greater investigative focus on perpetrators of violent crimes and their facilitators.
“As we continue to advance strategies to reduce violent crime across all divisions, utilising the range of policing tools, especially a heavy emphasis on investigations and the use of technology, building better relationships with communities, as well as institutional capacity building activities, we must save the lives of our citizens and reduce the fear that families and communities feel when violence goes unchecked,” he emphasised.
For his part, Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, informed that security personnel from the JDF and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) were deployed to effect the SOE at 6:00 this morning.
He said the SOE will cover the entire area comprising the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine within the established parish borders, which are the eastern boundary, which starts at the eastern most point of St. Catherine at the coastal intersection of the parish border of St. Catherine and St. Andrew.
“The eastern boundary then extends in a north-northwesterly direction along the shared parish border of St. Catherine and St. Andrew, then along the shared border of St. Catherine and St. Mary.
The northern boundary extends in a westerly direction along the border shared between St. Catherine, St. Mary and St. Ann and by Clarendon with St. Ann, extending to the point of the intersection of the borders of Clarendon, St. Ann, Manchester and Trelawny,” Lt. General Meade said.
Continuing, he said the western boundary will extend in a southeasterly direction along the shared parish border of Clarendon and Manchester all the way to the coastline. Further, the southern boundary will extend along the entire coastal areas of Clarendon and St. Catherine back to the southernmost point of the shared border of St. Catherine and St. Andrew.
Lt. General Meade said that while persons might be concerned about the implications of the security operation on their everyday lives, he assured citizens that both the JDF and the JCF have been properly trained and oriented to give the utmost respect to basic human and citizen rights of all persons within the communities.
In the meantime, Minister of National Security, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, said the Government continues to regard the lives of Jamaican citizens as the primary right, “and we take every measure to protect the lives of Jamaicans and save Jamaican lives”.
“The enhanced security measures in the area declared are part of that strategy and we proceed to ensure the security forces will have the required infrastructure and equipment to deal effectively in the long term,” he said.
The SOE will give the security forces temporary additional powers of search, arrest and detention.