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Police given counselling amid 2021’s prolific murders, Annual crime stats also reveal surge in burglary, break-ins and praedial larceny

‘Mental health can’t be put on the back burner any longer’ - Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney

By Gemma Handy

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Traumatised police officers received counselling last year after a bloody 12 months for the country which saw the murder rate almost double.

Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney yesterday revealed that the anguish of dealing with 16 homicides had seen several members of the force’s serious crime unit receive emotional support.

“They had to see a burnt body, shot up bodies, chopped up bodies, some decomposed. All of these play on the minds of investigators,” the top cop told media at a press conference on Friday.

Homicide wasn’t the only crime to see a major spike in 2021 compared to 2020. There was also a surge in so-called acquisition crime, which includes things like burglary, robbery and theft.

Such offences continue to make up the bulk of total crime, in sync with the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.

Overall, however, crime only saw a slight increase in 2021 with 2,403 reports compared to 2,370 in 2020 during which there were lengthy curfews and a national lockdown. And it was less than pre-pandemic 2019 in which there were 2,836 reports in total.

Police provided a comprehensive breakdown of all categories at yesterday’s end of year press briefing, which revealed that theft – the most prolific offence – accounted for 33 percent of all crime last year with 800 offences reported.

Incidents of breaking in jumped to 147 offences last year from 126 in 2020. Wounding continued to account for seven percent of overall crime with 166 reports in both 2021 and 2020.

But while stats on offences reported were readily forthcoming, details of subsequent detection rates were rather more sparse.

When pressed, Commissioner Rodney disclosed that “generally more than half” of offences are later solved.

Asked if he was satisfied with the murder conviction rate, he admitted he was not.

To date, charges have been laid in just eight of last year’s 16 homicides, with two more charges said to be pending and the remaining murders still under investigation.

Reasons for the lag, Rodney said, include a lack of eyewitnesses, forensic evidence and help from the public. He explained that police were “still clawing away” trying to solve the outstanding murders and appealed to anyone with information to come forward.

Rodney, who this month marks an impressive 40 years with the country’s police force, described 2021 as a particularly challenging year.

On top of the high murder rate and the impact of the pandemic, officers had to deal with the death of seven colleagues.

The loss of so many serving officers “has never happened before”, he said, adding that police had been “saddened” with some still struggling to cope.

Five of last year’s homicides were said to be related to domestic violence, while four involved allegations of mental health.

The Commissioner made an ardent appeal for measures to address the latter.

“Mental health issues must be given special attention and law enforcement must be provided with resources,” he said.

“The Ministry of Health and social services must be more proactive as we address this trend.

“We want to work collaboratively with them and others including NGOs. Mental health is for real and can’t be put on the back burner any longer.

“If we are proactive, we can minimise some of these problems,” Rodney added.

Psychiatric issues have a special resonance for the force with one of its own members – Corporal Clifton Common – killed in January 2020 by a police station detainee who was apparently mentally unstable.

And last month, Jennings resident Leroy Caesar was allegedly murdered while sharing a police cell with a man with psychiatric problems.

Rodney said he could not say whether or not the alleged killer’s mental health issues had been known to police who locked him up alongside Caesar. But he said the force was currently implementing a new policy governing detention methods and mental illness.

Police also took the opportunity yesterday to reveal figures on Covid protocol infractions.

Inspector Frankie Thomas spoke of the “humongous task” faced by his colleagues in ensuring the nation’s “safety and security, while continuing with regular day to day duties, enforcing laws and fighting crime”.

Fifty-four of the force’s 847 officers are currently infected with Covid, with more undergoing testing.

Deputy Commissioner Albert Wade noted that police had “been on the frontlines of the pandemic”.

“The risk of exposure is high for first responders. Many of us contracted the disease resulting in one death,” he disclosed.

A total of 749 officers are vaccinated against Covid, while 98 have so far been infected.

“January saw the country enter the ninth month of the state of emergency – and some residents showed signs of Covid fatigue at the beginning of the year,” Wade continued.

That translated into a “drastic increase” in tickets with 1,044 issued last year for failure to wear facemasks and 124 for social gatherings.

Wade also revealed the level of officers’ own transgressions for general things like disobedience and insubordination, with 216 internal complaints lodged. One officer was dismissed for discreditable conduct, while 175 charges were laid and 31 of the complaints withdrawn.

There were also 68 complaints made against serving members of the force by the public – 65 of which were later withdrawn, Wade said. Most related to incurred debt, such as outstanding house rent, he explained.

 Meanwhile, efforts are underway to improve the relationship between police and the community through the expansion of outreach work, Commissioner Rodney said.

He acknowledged there was “room for improvement” and expressed a desire for a return to the “level of dialogue we used to have”.

Rodney said there would be increased focus on training and retraining across all levels of the police force.

“We have to learn to live with the pandemic and we are committed to playing our part. We strive to lead by example,” he told the conference.

The Commissioner ended by paying tribute to the “commitment” displayed by his team in the face of adversity.

On top of the trauma of losing colleagues, “they still went on and performed their jobs”, he added.



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