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Just a few weeks before the scheduled end to the state of emergency (SOE) in St Catherine North, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Gary Griffiths, ground commander, said since the operation began on March 18, there have been significant gains in the division, including the arrest of a number of people connected to gangs and the recovery of guns.
“From the operation, 3 807 people have been detained and interviewed, and 362 arrested and charged. There are also additional persons who have been picked up and interviewed but not processed [under the SOE],” he said.
“Twenty-one wanted men were picked up, but it is important to note that these persons were not all processed as part of the state of emergency. These are persons known to police. If they are wanted and picked up they don't go through [SOE] processing. These are persons from areas that include St Catherine North, Clarendon, St Ann, and St Catherine South. For serious offences, seven persons of interest are yet to be picked up.”
In addition, SSP Griffiths shared that out of the operations 11 firearms — inclusive of two imitation firearms and one home-made firearm — had been seized. He, however expressed disappointment with the number of guns found.
“Imitation firearms cannot discharge rounds. They resemble the real ones and can be used to bring fear in robberies and in sexual offences. The locally manufactured firearms can discharge rounds. People assemble some parts and they can be used to kill or maim. But we were expecting to find more guns going in; however, that was not the case,” he said.
But though the state of public emergency has yielded results for the security forces, it has, said residents, resulted in much frustration for motorists, as well as some loss of productivity.
Yesterday, on a visit to St Catherine North, some residents told the Jamaica Observer that they do not want the security measure extended, claiming that the ongoing operation had resulted in job and productivity losses.
“The traffic hold-up is my greatest issue with it. It has caused many persons to lose their jobs. You can't make the boss money and people have lost their jobs over it, so they need to do their thing better,” a taxi operator who called himself “Blacka” said.
“I don't think it should be extended. We are in a better place now and I don't think things will go back to where they were,” Dennis Darlington, a Bog Walk taxi operator added.
Others describe hours in traffic to get in and out of communities surrounding the SOE, resulting in late arrivals at school and work, no matter how early they set out.
Meanwhile, other residents describe the current peace as a “tense calm” as they expressed uncertainty as to whether they will welcome another extension of the security measure, which should come to an end on July 3.
“We're seeing a lot of progress, but we can't talk out. The fear factor is still there. If you speak they say you're an informer, but the security forces are doing good work. The citizens want [peace] and many more would talk out but they are still afraid,” a man who identified himself as Cleveland S said.
He added, though, that should the state of public emergency end on July 3, and not be extended, he is sure that St Catherine North, which includes Spanish Town, Twickenham Park, Old Harbour Road, Bog Walk, and Linstead, plus their environs, will go back to square one.
“This has to be a long-term thing until all the criminal elements are weeded out. There is still more to do. Even if they pull out now, close to November or December the extortionists will come right back and tell the proprietors to pay up for those times they weren't collecting,” he said.
And though many of the vendors, taxi operators and residents remained mum and shared that they were still fearful yesterday, they said they would just have to live with the decision of Parliament regarding another extension.
“Whatsoever they come with I'm OK, but I think it's good, as it has cut out a lot of crime,” a resident who called himself C Duncan said.
Some hoped for an extension, if only for a continuation of peace in their communities.
“I have no problem with it; you don't hear the gunshots anymore, and there is no killing,” Annmarie said.
Added “Bounty”, a taxi operator: “I like to see the soldiers. They bring a sense of calm and peace. From they are here you don't hear of any disturbances in the place.”
“It should go on for a next seven years. In order to break a habit, something has to be continuous,” another taxi operator said.
For his part, SSP Griffiths maintained that he is satisfied that enough work is being done to reduce violence in the division and added that the social interventions in St Catherine North are ongoing.
“We've had several publicised meetings, stakeholder groups have been formed right across the division, and the achievements thus far are significant to reduce the violence in the area,” he said.
“I don't know why residents would conclude that it is a tense calm. I don't know what they know that the police don't know. I don't envision things will go back to what they used to be. We have arrested a number of persons connected to gangs and we have made sufficient improvements,” he said.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared the SOE for St Catherine North, initially for 14 days, after the division experienced 48 murders between January 1 and March 18.
Last year, 136 people were killed in St Catherine North, home to the largest gang in the island, the Klansman gang, which is reportedly responsible for scores of murders, robberies and extortion within the division and its environs.
On March 27, 49 Members of Parliament voted in favour of a resolution to extend the security measure for three months, up to July 3.