Praedial larceny unit reaping success
THE PRAEDIAL LARCENY UNIT (PLU), established in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in March 2015, and headed by a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), has been reaping success.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Dermon Spence, tells JIS News over the last ten months there has been a 14 per cent reduction in praedial larceny.
Pointing out the goal of the unit is to create an enabling environment which will result in the reduction of cases of praedial larceny and farm theft, Spence says the unit has been working hard to meet that mandate.
To support the PLU, a National Praedial Larceny Prevention Committee has been established to operate as an information exchange unit, providing guidance and support to strengthen the programme.
Spence says the PLU has been strident in its efforts to rid the nation of praedial thieves and provide a sense of comfort for farmers.
He notes that between 2014 and 2015, the parishes with the most cases of praedial larceny are: St. Mary, 195; Trelawny, 116; St Thomas, 196; St Ann, 114; Manchester, 119; St Elizabeth, 161; St Catherine, 111; and Western Kingston, 167.
Spence adds from those reports, there have been 331 arrests, 74 convictions and 243 cases still before the Courts.
The Chief Technical Director says although the unit is achieving some success, the agricultural sector continues to suffer at the hands of praedial thieves who rob farmers and other stakeholders of an estimated $5 billion worth of produce each year.
He notes that the reason why the thieves will not stop is the strong demand for fresh produce and the ease with which stolen produce can enter the market.
“Praedial larceny is the most impactful crime in Jamaica. It is the single greatest disincentive to investment in the agricultural sector. It is also intrinsically linked to organised crime, as stolen produce are traded for guns,” Spence says.
In an effort to thwart the praedial thieves, especially those who target livestock farmers, the Ministry has introduced a number of traceability measures to include the National Animal Identification and Traceability System (NAITS), under which cattle are tagged and issued with a passport, which records critical genetic data, including the transfer of an animal from one owner to another.
In addition, a receipt book system has been set up to track the movement of agricultural produce from the field to the market.
Head of the PLU, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Kevin Francis, says the unit has contributed meaningfully to the restoration of confidence in the agricultural sector.
He notes that 168 farms have been visited; 71 community meetings have been held and 83 meetings have taken place with stakeholders, such as the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).
“This crime is not to be viewed as a minor crime, but as one of the most pervasive and entrenched crimes. Praedial larceny has moved from the theft of small amounts of produce to involving, in some instances, truck-loads of bananas or an entire field of pineapples,” DSP Francis tells JIS News.
He says people involved in praedial larceny are also involved in the meat for guns trade, with carcasses of animals being exchanged on the high seas. He adds members of the Unit have been placing serious focus on curbing that practice and apprehending the participants.
DSP Francis points out that there is on-going training for members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), to sensitise them on the work of the unit and the impact that praedial larceny is having on the country.
“I have taken it on myself to train, sensitise and educate at least 250 police personnel, so they can be aware of what it takes to present the cases before the Clerks of Court, so that the right charges can be preferred and the right cases are presented,” he says.
“In order for praedial larceny to become less of a problem, we all have to work together. Praedial larceny should be everybody’s business,” DSP Francis tells JIS News.
He says along with the monitoring of the coastal waters and the routine stop and search activities, the unit is looking at regional training in terms of farm theft.
“What we have observed is that praedial larceny in Trinidad is different from what it is in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados. If we are going to come from a CARICOM level, to effectively fight praedial larceny as a region, we need to attack the issue as a region,” DSP Francis emphasises. (JIS)