The Jamaica government says it is moving to boost the capacity of the security forces to monitor communication by criminals and will soon pilot legislation as part of its crime fighting capacity.
National Security Minister Dr. Horace Chang said that a review of the anti-gang legislation is near completion, with important amendments being examined, but indicated that the Andrew Holness government will not only be relying on that law to suppress gang activities.
“The Anti-Gang legislation will have two of three final sittings,” Chang said, adding “we are bringing to the House amendments to the Intercept of Communications Act to provide the security forces with an effect means of using modern technology to gather evidence in dealing with the criminal enterprises, the gangs, the dons and…the bringing of guns into the country,” he said.
The Interception of Communications Act allows the security forces to tap the telephones of persons suspected of or accused of criminal involvement.
It authorizes the interception of all of the communication of a specific person named in a warrant and enables authorized officers to request technical information from telecommunications service providers under the Telecommunications Act.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Holness announced that a state of emergency has been declared in the Corporate Area police division of St Andrew South.
“In St Andrew South the main cause of death is caused by gangs. Violence is at epidemic proportions in Jamaica … the main cause of death is gangs, dons and guns,” Holness said.
From January 1 to June 29, this year, there were 94 murders in St Andrew South, up from 79 for the corresponding period last year.
Currently, there is a state of emergency in effect in the western parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover and St James. In January, a year-long state of public emergency expired in St James.
In describing the overall crime situation nationally, especially relative to murders, Holness declared that, “this is an epidemic and no one should tell that the country should be satisfied with it.
“The truth is that the level of crime is above the capacity of law enforcement to (effectively) respond. There have been 11,000 murders in the last eight years, and we do not have enough investigators,” said Holness,, adding “the government is employing not just one strategy, but a raft of strategies that must complement each other”.
Meanwhile, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has welcomed the SOE, but believes that the crime-fighting measure is needed in other places across the island, including Clarendon.
“No doubt St Andrew South needs a state of emergency, but one could argue that so does Clarendon. Business people will always feel safe whenever the security forces are mobilised. Obviously, that division has reached some sort of statistical threshold in terms of murders that would cause security advisers to request a state of public emergency,” PSOJ president Howard Mitchell, told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
“Not knowing what that threshold is, I can only assume that Clarendon hasn’t reached it. I have to ask if apart from the high number of murders, if there are any other criteria for declaring a state of emergency, like depravity, magnitude of violence, brazenness of activity and the coordinated nature of criminal activity. Clarendon seems not to have met those parameters.”
Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips,, who also welcomed the SOE, has called on the government to ensure that human rights are observed.
“We are very concerned that even while there is a South St Andrew state of emergency, Clarendon is being gripped with criminality. The People’s National Party is still waiting to have a national stakeholders meeting. That has not happened yet.”
“We are hoping that the state of emergency is not being imposed to detract from the very serious and high levels of corruption affecting the Caribbean Maritime University and the Ministry of Education,” Phillips added.