(Jamaica Observer) Against the backdrop of a runaway murder rate — including the brutal slaying of a family of four in Mount Carmel, Hanover late Monday night that brought the year-to-date toll to 632 — the police on Tuesday announced plans to intensify operations in hotspots across the island as part of efforts to stem the carnage.
In his first media briefing since assuming office, Police Commissioner George Quallo warned that strategies to be employed will inconvenience citizens, but noted that this will be in the interest of safety and security.
Quallo said heavy reliance will be placed on the special powers provision in the Constabulary Force Act to allow for a slew of crime-fighting measures, including cordon and search tactics, curfews, and detentions for preventative and investigative purposes.
“We will place emphasis on policing initiatives that have worked in the past such as containment measures which will target gangs and mobile, armed criminals,” Quallo said as he cautioned that disruptive tactics deny freedom of movement and freedom of action.
The police will increase patrols in crime hotspots as they are “committing to permanent presence in some very volatile communities to protect citizens while we work to flush out criminal elements”, the commissioner told journalists at his Old Hope Road office in St Andrew.
The news conference came approximately 15 hours after gunmen slaughtered 60-year-old Curtis Walters, his 34-year-old common-law wife Erica Leslie and their two children — Iana, 17, and Curtina, 14, a student of Green Island High School — inside their house in the small farming community of Mount Carmel.
A relative of the slain family, who lives in close proximity to where the quadruple murder was committed, said a barrage of explosions was heard coming from the house about 11:00 pm.
The grieving family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the two children were heard begging the killers to spare their lives.
“Mi hear nuff shots… is like dem a shoot pon rapid. Mi lie down in my house. Mi can’t take it. Mi don’t waan dead, you know.”
The resident, who was a nervous wreck, explained that it was only when day broke that neighbours crawled out of their houses and raised an alarm.
“Mi don’t come out until daylight. Mi couldn’t come out, after mi don’t want to die. It red. Mi go a mi bed hungry but mi belly full now. From mi born is the first mi see this inna my whole life,” the resident lamented.
According to police sources, the perpetrators of Monday night’s macabre murders are members of a gang that have, in recent times, been thorns in the flesh of residents of the neighbouring communities of Dias, Middlesex, and Williamsfield.
Since the start of the year, the gang has been fingered in 12 murders, including two triple murders — last month’s killing of a mother and her son and Monday night’s massacre.
An investigator claimed that Leslie is closely related to a top-tier member of the gang wreaking mayhem in the adjoining districts.
“Crime get out of control. Hanover has never seen this kind of carnage. We are basically under siege,” said Donald Campbell, Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for the Riverside Division.
“From the start of the year, basically, it is fear that is gripping the parish. It is unheard of. I am calling on the minister of national security and the commissioner of police to provide leadership where the crime problem is concerned,” Campbell said. “We need different strategies going forward because the strategy that is in place at the moment is not working.”
Commissioner Quallo, at his news conference, advised that the police will fully exploit the provisions of the Anti-Gang legislation to arrest and prosecute criminals who form gangs, which he said are responsible for 70 per cent of the killings that have so far taken place.
Fifty-three people were killed last week, while there have been 37 double, six triple and two quadruple murders since the start of the year.
Admittedly, the senior cop said the measures are not new, but assured that the difference is how they will be applied and the energies brought.
“We have a workforce that is far more motivated and so we are committed to the task at hand and I’m convinced that there will be a difference in the very near future,” he said while acknowledging that there are challenges in terms of the attrition rate in the police force.
At the same time, he complained about the slow pace of court cases, arguing that it has served as a challenge to crime-fighting efforts.
“When we are successful in securing witnesses for murders the cases take an average of seven years to come to trial. Last week Mr Derrick Knight, assistant commissioner of police, gave evidence in a matter for which the accused was charged in 2005 when he was a deputy superintendent.
“If this trend continues, the 967 persons we arrested for murder last year and the 284 arrested up to June 10 this year are not likely to face trial until 2024,” the commissioner argued.
He said while awaiting trial the majority of those accused are granted bail and are able to influence witnesses, whether with violence or bribes, resulting in non-convictions.