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State of Emergency in Jamaica extended

PROACTIVE: The State of Public Emergency comes as a response to the area's worsening crime rate.

THE STATE of Public Emergency declared in St. James, Jamaica, has been extended by another three months. The parish is home to Montego Bay, one of the island’s key tourist destinations.

The House of Representatives yesterday took to parliament and approved a motion to extend the provision until May 2. All 51 members of the House who were present voted unanimously in favour. Eleven members were absent.

The state of emergency came into effect on January 18 for an initial period of two weeks. A staggering 335 people were murdered in St. James last year.

NECESSARY

Prime Minister Andrew Holness asserted that the extension was necessary, to allow more time for law enforcement personnel to carry out operations within the parish.

“It was not anticipated that all that is required would be accomplished in 14 days. It is reasonable to expect that even with extraordinary powers, it will take some time to affect the situation in St. James,” he said.

Holness added that prevalent criminal activity, such as murder, lottery scamming and trafficking, is evidence of an ecosystem of crime that is well resourced and enabled to flourish in the area.

It has been speculated that a network of facilitators, both public officials and private persons, are aiding such illicit activities.

The prime minister continued: “The intelligence picture is being built on not only perpetrators, but also on the facilitators as well, and we will be targeting both the street-level criminal and the facilitators.

“We need to support the security forces within the context that they will enforce the law within the provisions as we ensure a better future for our citizens. While we acknowledge that there will be some disruption and fallout, we must take back control of our country and we must dismantle the network of organised crime.”

ASSURANCE

Mr. Holness stressed that security forces have, as ever, been instructed to treat citizens with dignity and respect; the State of Public Emergency does not mean that these fundamental rights will be eschewed.


CONCERN: Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, pictured announcing the initial State of Public Emergency for the parish of St. James on 18 January 2018. Flanked by Hon. Robert Montague (centre), Minister of National Security and Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Rocky Meade. (Photo credit: Jamaican Information Service)

During the State of Public Emergency, the security forces retain the power to search, reduce 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 power to seize property. They can also control public gatherings and control movements. Since the State of Public Emergency was announced, 10 guns have been retrieved, and 51 people have been arrested and charged.

OPPOSITION

Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Peter Phillips, said the People’s National Party are in favour of the State of Emergency’s extension.

“We accept that the peace could not be restored sufficiently in the 14 days permitted under the Constitution and that more time needs to be made available to the security forces in order for confidence in the state of civil order to be spread widely among the people of St. James,” he said.

However, he has warned against using this method indefinitely as a means of of combating crime.

“Even as we are minded to support the extension for three months, there cannot be an open-ended state of emergency in St James or any other part of the country, so while we will support this, we urge that all necessary measures will be taken to ensure that the situation is brought under control.”

He called for the ‘Operation Kingfish’ to be restored. Launched in 2004, this was a popular, intelligence drive police anti-crime initiative which largely targeted major players in the organised crime world.

It was 'quietly' disbanded in 2012 and the reason for this remains unclear.

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