KINGSTON — Montego Bay mayor councillor Homer Davis has made an appeal for the state of public emergency to remain in place at least until next year.
According to Davis, word on the streets of the city is that criminals are anticipating an end to the measure in order to resume unleashing terror on residents.
“Before we can consider lifting the state of emergency, we must first look at completing the army barracks out in Flanker where we can have the full cadre of military personnel in the parish. We must also look at constructing the barracks up at Montego Hills to house the 150 members from Mobile Reserve so we can have a much quicker response team for the parish,” Davis told the Jamaica Observer.
Security minister Dr Horace Chang has since clarified that a building will be constructed to house 300 members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force in Montego Hills. Construction will begin during the next financial year.
The state of public emergency was declared in St James on Thursday, January 18 this year after the parish recorded 335 murders last year.
Last month, the police released data showing that nationally, major crimes — categorized as murder, shooting, rape, and aggravated assault — have dropped by just under 17 per cent between January 1 and August 11, compared to the same period last year.
In relation to St James, the figures show that for the period January 1 to August 11, there were 60 murders in the parish, compared to 188 over the same period last year — a decrease of 68.1 per cent. Shootings were also down to 61, compared to 140 last year, a 56.4 per cent reduction.
Mayor Davis said that while he was heartened by the reduction in crime, he was wary of the talk coming from the streets.
“The public is of the opinion, based on what they sometimes hear in their communities, that some of the violence producers are saying that they are just waiting until the end of the state of emergency and then they will continue where they left off,” Davis said.
His proposal to have the anti-crime measure extended received support from a number of people in the parish.
“The state of emergency is very effective, and I believe that 90 per cent of the citizens concur because crime has been reduced and fear has been reduced. We are now able to get up in the mornings and go in the streets to exercise. We are very confident that we are safe,” Meridie Rowe, a resident of Mount Salem, told the Observer.
“I would love to see it continue, or if [there’s] anything that can replace it to bring about safety, I am all for it,” added Rowe, who is also an ex-cop.
Similar sentiments were echoed by a Norwood resident, who did not want to be identified.
“I wouldn’t mind if they could extend it until Jesus sounds the trumpet,” he said. “Since the state of emergency I feel much, much safer. From my observation, members of the JCF and members of the JDF have done a tremendous job in transforming the community on a whole. People are now able to go to church service at nights, people are able to interact by playing games and different activities.”
A female resident of Paradise Heights said that while her community is not known as a crime hotspot, she feels safer now that the security forces are conducting regular patrols in the community.
“For 24 hours we can get in and out. Twenty-four hours the soldiers are around. I am not feeling safe, I am safe!” she exclaimed.
Mayor Davis also claimed that the police are in favour of an extension of the state of emergency.
“When I speak with the police they say to me we need to go the full distance, we need to make sure that when the state of emergency ends things can never and will never go back to where they were in 2017,” Davis said.
Winston Lawson, president of the Montego Bay chamber of commerce and industry, said his organization continues to fully support the anti-crime measure.
“Our membership continues to support the state of emergency, certainly not without concerns. But we continue to be very encouraged by the results as they relate to the decrease in criminal activity in St James. Obviously, concerns relate to the closing hours that have to be in place with it. That’s creating some problems that’s contributing to some reduction in revenues,” Lawson said.
“I think largely the support is still there and we really want to encourage the security forces to use this period of time to find a workable alternative that will ensure that we have similar results because we can’t do business in a state that we had before the state of emergency.” (Jamaica Observer)