(Jamaica Observer) KINGSTON, Jamaica — Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared a state of public emergency for the parish of St James.
This means that the security forces have been given extraordinary powers and some rights have been suspended. Members of the security forces may also search places without a warrant.
The prime minister, who was flanked by National Security Minister Robert Montague, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, Commissioner of Police George Quallo and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Rocky Meade while making a presentation at Jamaica House yesterday, assured that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.
Holness said the state of emergency does not equate to the suspension of the rule of law, adding that the security forces will respect the rights of citizens and protect the dignity of all.
He also implored citizens to inform the security forces where guns and criminals are if they know.
During the question and answer segment, the prime minister said some questions would not be answered in a bid to avoid revealing strategic plans.
However, he explained that the government factored tourism into the equation and considered the effects that the state of emergency might have on the industry. He assured that stakeholders in the tourism industry have given their support.
In relation to questions on why the state of emergency was not implemented before, Holness said being in charge of government “we must always be considerate of what happened before and learn from the errors”.
He further explained that this kind of planning takes time and that action must be aligned with resources and other variables in order for it to be successful.
For his part, Chuck assured that the extraordinary powers granted to the security forces do not mean that the upholding of human rights has been abandoned.
He outlined that factors such as the high murder rate and gang warfare led to the declaration of the state of emergency.
Montague used his minute or so to appeal to the citizens of St James to cooperate with the security forces.
“We will be relentless as we pursue the criminals,” he told the conference cautioning that as citizens travel they will be subjected to searches.
“Now is the time to tell us who the gunmen are, they are a danger to you and your community,” he urged.
Meanwhile, Meade, in support of the state of emergency, said he has requested the call out of the Jamaica National Reserve to St James and that additionally troops were deployed this morning.
He reiterated that the security forces have unlimited powers to stop and search.
The group declined to give a duration for the state of emergency due to “strategic reasons”.
Last year, some 335 murders were recorded in St James and at least four people have been murdered in that western parish since the start of the year.
There have also been several reports of shootings in the parish.