Photo: Rudranath Fraser
The Senate, on Thursday (March 29), unanimously approved two motions to extend the State of Public Emergency in the St. Catherine North Police Division until July 3, 2018, during its sitting at Gordon House.
They are the Emergency Powers (No. 2) (Continuance) Resolution, 2018, and the Emergency Powers (No. 2) Regulations (Continuance) Resolution, 2018.
All 16 members of the Senate who were present voted in favour of the motions. Five members were absent.
On Tuesday (March 27), the Emergency Powers (No. 2) (Continuance) Resolution, 2018, was approved in the House of Representatives.
On March 18, Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, announced that the State of Public Emergency had been declared in the St. Catherine North Police Division.
He advised that the Proclamation under the Emergency Powers Act to bring the enhanced security measures into effect was signed by Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, and gazetted.
The Proclamation, unless revoked, would remain in force for 14 days or for a longer period, not exceeding three months, as determined by Resolution supported by a two-thirds majority of each of the Houses of Parliament.
Addressing the Senate, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister and Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, said the implementation of the enhanced security measures is a necessary and important step in the fight against crime, and is vital in preserving the rule of law and maintaining public order in the St. Catherine North Police Division.
The Minister said police statistics show that the Division has recorded the highest number of homicides this year with 48 persons being murdered between January 1 and March 18.
She noted that there were 136 murders in the Division last year, describing this as “beyond unacceptable”.
Senator Johnson Smith informed that since the commencement of the State of Emergency, there has been no report of murder or serious crimes, or abuse by the security forces in the Division.
“We want to make it clear that a State of Emergency is not synonymous with (nor) equivalent to a crime plan. We understand this and we think it is important for everyone to understand that there are areas which require extreme measures to ensure that law and order and public order (are) restored in a specific geographical area as part of the effort to stem rampant crime and criminality,” she said.
In this regard, the Minister thanked the citizens who have used the confidential lines to share information and encouraged others to continue doing so by dialling 837-8888 or 311.
“It falls to us all as members of this society to play our part in the fight against crime. If you see a criminal activity, if you suspect criminal activity, report it, if you see something… say something,” she said.
Senator Johnson Smith also urged the wider society to join the Government in the united fight against crime.
During the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and detain persons without a warrant.
It also gives them power to stop and question persons and seize property. Additionally, it allows them to control public gatherings and movements.
“These additional powers allow the security forces to be better able to stem the high crime levels in St. Catherine North,” she said.
Meanwhile, Senator Johnson Smith said the State of Emergency in St. James has resulted in a drastic decline in crime in the parish.
She informed that up to the March 1, 2018, St. James recorded 59 fewer murders than the corresponding period last year.
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“In addition to the 61 persons arrested and charged, some 523 offensive weapons, including 18 firearms and 351 rounds of ammunition, were seized. This is proof that the enhanced security measures have worked and can work when they are given the time to work. It is within this context that we believe the State of Emergency for St. Catherine north should similarly be given the chance to reduce crime in the Division,” the Minister added.
For his part, Opposition Senator, Wentworth Skeffery said the Opposition supports the short-term emergency measures “because we understand that the country is at a crossroads”.
“We are also aware that this emergency measure cannot…. last for a sustained period of time. So while we use it to stem the challenges, we now need to have social intervention programmes and deal with the order in our communities as we seek to rescue (them from criminality),” he said.
The Constitution provides that a period of Public Emergency can be declared by Proclamation if the Governor-General is satisfied that action has been taken by any person or persons that has threatened or is deemed threatening citizen security and public safety.
The Emergency Powers Act refers to the existence of a State of Public Emergency and empowers the Governor-General to make regulations during a period of Public Emergency.
The State of Public Emergency in St. Catherine North is the second such following a similar declaration in St. James in January.