KINGSTON, Jamaica, CMC – The Jamaica Parliament has approved an extension of the state of emergency (SOE) in the St Andrew South Police Division by another 90 days following a debate that showed up a division between the two main contenders for the top position of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP).
While Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips voted in support of extending the SOE even as he acknowledged that it was not the best answer to the crime situation, Peter Bunting, who is seeking to topple Phillips as PNP leader, voted against the measure.
Bunting, a former minister of national security, had earlier during the debate used figures presented to the Parliament to challenge claims by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the SOEs have been effective in stemming the country’s murder rate.
Prime Minister Holness told legislators that despite reductions in murders and shootings in various areas like the Kingston Western and St Catherine North police divisions, his administration was still concerned about increases in other areas such as the capital, St Catherine South and St Andrew South and the parishes of St James and Manchester.
“The lesson from that, Mr Speaker, is that the state of public emergency is a very effective tool in controlling the geographical spaces in which murders are occurring,.
“If they (SOEs) are used in a coordinated way, in a very effective way, as was seen last year, they can bring down the national murder rate,” he added.
Holness said that since the start of the year, 726 persons have been murdered here, a one per cent increase when compared with the corresponding period last year or an average of just over three killings daily. Jamaica recorded 1, 287 murders last year.
Holness said that the latest figures for the St Andrew South police showed 11 more murders when compared with the similar period last year. Up to last Sunday, there were 95 murders in the division.
St Catherine South is one of several police divisions that have seen an increase in murders since the start of 2019, with Central Kingston, up by 11; Kingston East, up by nine; and Manchester, which is up by 13.
In his contribution, Phillips said while he would support an extension of the SOE, he was doing so “because citizens want some relief from the terror questioning whether the “sustained and long term” use of the SOE represent the best use of the manpower resources of the security forces
Phillips agreed that the increased presence of the security forces offered relief to the residents of the crime-torn areas.
“I will support the state of emergency because the communities want some relief from the immediate terror that they are experiencing,” Phillips said, noting however that the SOE produced a “balloon” effect, wherein while the air was expanding in some areas it was being squeezed in others.
Phillips said that beyond that there were lessons to be learnt, including the need for intelligence-driven operations, which could lead to the take-down of the “kingpins” on the basis of collective intelligence, and the need to identify the targets and deal with them effectively.
Phillips also urged the government to resume bipartisan discussions which have not been held carried out since the parties met in January.
For his part, Bunting said that in two and a half months after an SOE was imposed in St James, Hanover and Westmoreland on April 30, a total of 288 murders were recorded nationally, compared to 237 for the similar period last year.
He argued also that police statistics show that up to April 27, murders were down eight per cent over the first four months of this year, falling from 475 last year to 434.
“How can you say that is, without question, a very effective tool when murders for the comparative period last year compared with this year are up 21.5 per cent?” Bunting said.