‘Dem shoulda neva stop it’

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Four weeks after the state of public emergency (SOE) expired in the St Catherine North police division, a number of residents and business operators are lamenting the decision and have expressed a desire for its resumption.

“Initially, business sales decreased to an extent because we had to close earlier than we normally would. This, however, did not happen for an extended period and sales quickly returned to normal,” Candy Dyer, a pharmacist in Spanish Town, told the Jamaica Observer last week.

“I liked the fact that the police and soldiers were out in large numbers because this caused less chaos in Spanish Town. I used to hear frequent uproars in the vicinity before they came, but when the SOE was implemented the presence of the security forces was greatly felt, and the usual uproars that took place were no more,” Dyer said.

She added that as soon as the operation was terminated on January 2, she was made aware of at least two incidents that took place close to her place of business.

“I felt safer with the extra police and soldiers that were present, and I am also of the opinion that the soldiers do not get the opportunity to do much, so they could be used to tackle the crime situation in Spanish Town,” she continued.

Dyer said she would appreciate if the anti-crime measure was re-implemented, but with a bit of tweaking.

“I believe that the police and soldiers should have moved around; they should have been mobile as opposed to being in one spot. They were always where they were expected to be,” she explained.

TJ Jones, a popular barber in Spanish Town, articulated that he was grateful for the SOE and shared that it actually helped his business.

“I appreciated when the police and soldiers were here,” he said. “It supported my business, because persons who were afraid of coming into the town came during the time when there was a heavy security force presence. It was a plus for me.”

He said that crime in the town took a nosedive during the SOE, which was implemented on March 18, 2018.

“There weren’t many incidents in the town anymore. I want the police and soldiers to return but I would like them to make accommodations for the business people because a lot of persons were inconvenienced by the closing hours that had to be adhered to. For example, the persons coming from work were definitely inconvenienced because the time that businesses had to be closed was a bit early for them,” Jones told the Observer.

Last September, after complaints from business operators in the town, the security forces revised opening hours, allowing clubs and restaurants to operate from 6:00 am to 2:00 am; bars from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm; gas stations from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm; supermarkets and haberdasheries from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm; pharmacies from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm; and other public places from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.

The authorities had explained that the cap placed on opening hours was to ensure that the security forces controlled the night-time in particular, thus interrupting the decision-making cycle of criminals and limiting the opportunity for random crimes.

Another Spanish Town barber, Garfield Griffiths, agreed with Jones. He said business for him was good and that the heavy patrolling which was done by the security forces was a deterrent to individuals who would normally commit wrongful acts in the town.

Griffiths, while admitting that he had a problem with the closing hours, said that he would want the SOE back in the old capital and is of the view that if residents need to adjust in order to have peace, he is all for it — even if it means that his business will have to close a little earlier than usual.

“If drastic measures have to be taken for peace to reign, then that is what it is,” said Griffiths.

Security guard Deacon Brown told the Observer that when he began working in Spanish Town killings used to take place, but after the SOE was put in place the number of murders decreased.

“When the soldiers were present on a daily basis people had the opportunity to move more freely,” he said.

When asked if he would like the SOE to be re-implemented, Brown said: “Dem shoulda neva stop it. It needs to be continued, as I felt 100 per cent safer when they were here in their large numbers.”

Another resident, Akeem Boothe, said: “During the period I was more comfortable going about my daily life in the town, knowing that there were random spot checks being done and heavier police presence afoot within the town.”

He added that crime and violence decreased drastically, based on the information that he gathered from the nightly news.

“I felt safe and free to move about as I wished to. However, once the movement came to an end I noticed that the trend of crime began to climb once again. Again, this was affirmed by the nightly news. This information has put me on edge, knowing that the likelihood of getting caught in a crossfire is high — much higher than it was a couple months ago,” he said.

“I now try to avoid the town as best as possible but most times I cannot, and that is why I would not mind if the security officers returned in even larger numbers than they came before,” said Boothe.

Sophia Walters, who lives in a usually volatile area within the town, said that her only issue was that she was not allowed to keep her parties and events at the usual times.

She said that the time limitations caused a dent in the amount of money she would make from parties.

“Otherwise from the time restraints, I was happy. I felt much safer than I feel now,” Walters said.

Last year, police data showed that between January 1 and December 22, a total of 41 fewer murders were committed in the St Catherine North division, a decrease of 30.1 per cent over the same period in 2017.

The SOE — which was also in effect in St James as well as in the Kingston Central, Kingston Western, and St Andrew South police divisions — led to sharp decreases in crime, particularly murders, in those areas as well.

However, last December, in response to the Government’s request for another three months of the anti-crime measure, the Opposition People’s National Party, which had supported extensions of the SOE over the year, voted against a further extension in Parliament, saying that detainees were being subjected to human rights abuses and that the measure was no longer necessary, given the reduction in crimes, particularly murder.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips had argued that while it may be contended that the conditions warranting the declaration of an SOE existed at the time the first one was declared in January 2018 in St James, they clearly did not exist in December.

Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and National Security Minister Horace Chang have been assuring the country that the security forces will maintain their presence in the communities where the SOE was in place.

In addition to the January 2 expiration of the SOE in St Catherine North, the measure came to an end in the Corporate Area on January 7, and on January 31 in St James.

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