Press Conference On November 15, 2022
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police
Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman, Chief of Defence Staff
Dr Honourable Horace Chang, Minister of National Security
The Honourable Robert Morgan, Minister of Information
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness:
Thank you, Minister Morgan. Let me join in saying welcome to the OPM press room. It is our actual first live presentation since this press room was inaugurated. It’s very good to see journalists in their physical presence.
Good morning everyone, good morning Jamaica and persons listening overseas on social media.
This morning His Excellency the Governor General the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, declared a State of Public Emergency in the parishes of Claredon, St. Catherine and specified areas in the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew and a State of Public Emergency as well in the parishes. St. James, Westmoreland and Hanover. So, there are two separate declarations of states of public emergency, one we consider to be the southern crescent and the other, the Western tri-parishes.
The Commission of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff will give details on these declarations. The Government after careful consideration on the advice of the security chiefs decided to advise the Governor General that it was necessary and indeed appropriate to declare states of public emergency in these areas. We have seen an increase in criminal activities in these areas and indeed a threat to property and in some instances, public disorder. It is important to note that we are also approaching the Christmas season, and this will require the deployment of even greater resources, sometimes resources that our security forces do not have, and therefore the government has to act in a preemptive way, the government has to act in such a way as to maximize the resources that we have to save lives and property from the threats that exist.
The underlying threats are such that it will cause an increase in the number of murders and homicides that we see going into the next few weeks and indeed we have seen an increase in murders over the last six months. What we are seeing with gang activities in these areas is cause for grave concern. Indeed, have been appealed to by several members of parliament including from the opposition, asking for greater assistance in their constituencies as a result of the increased levels of crime and violence. So, we are expecting that there will be support for the declaration of this state of public emergency and we are indeed hoping that the opposition will offer their critical support as well. So with those words, I will now turn over to the commissioner of police; I’m giving you the American terminology, the Commissioner to give further details on the state of public emergency. Thank you.
Commissioner of Police:
Thank you Prime Minister.
Deputy Prime Minister, ministers, other official CDS, members of the media, good morning.
So, we have seen high levels of violence over the past, probably as the Prime Minister said, six months so as at November 13th, that was Sunday, we had had a total of 1,360 murders in Jamaica. It’s really at that point an increase of 6.8% over last year and of that figure collectively 10 of the 19 police divisions in that area that the Prime Minister described account for 72% of murders that have happened and 75% of shootings. The main drivers of these violent crimes continue to be gang violence which accounts for 71% of all murders and interpersonal conflicts which account for another 16% of these murders.
Since the press conference in February this year, I indicated that we’d be targeting guns, gangs, and gunmen who are the chief architects of the sort of violence that we are seeing in this society. We have reaped some successes, we’ve removed 675 illegal firearms which is up 10% from last year from the hands of criminals. We’ve disrupted gun runners and contract killers on their way to carry out their profession if you can call it that and these successes have come from the way we’ve been executing in conjunction with our security force partners, the JDF and others, detailed policing and security plans. We have increased intelligence and we’ve applied better technology to what we’ve been doing.
Now, this is a work in progress, we aren’t there yet with all that we want to put in place and even with the strides we have made, the willingness of armed criminals to kill, the murder-for-hire, an increasing level of callousness has kept our murder rate at unacceptably high levels. We’ll see the impact of the new Firearms Act over time. I don’t doubt going into next year, we’re just in that amnesty period now, having the new act in place on the 1st of November and so this act we see as having a significant impact on those people in the whole illegal firearm ecosystem whether they are the actual shooters and users of firearms, or they have the purveyors of them who support that illegal industry.
In September, we launched Operation Relentless ll which placed strategic focus on five specific police divisions. We jointly planned operations and set up joint operations centres to focus on some key flashpoints; those are five specific divisions, St. James Westmoreland, St. Andrew South, St. Catherine North and South.
Now, these operations under Relentless have started the process of giving us some reductions but these gains are not happening fast enough and they’re not substantial enough based on what is happening in the country and based on the risk and the number of our people who are being killed.
Now, although we tend to speak about gains and losses when we’re talking about statistics of persons who have been killed, what we’re actually speaking about are people’s lives; Jamaicans who have fallen victims not to crime but to criminals, actually people who go there and their position in life is that they’re going to kill and maim people in communities and create as much fear as possible for profit and for some benefit that they seek to have from their activities. These are persons who know and understand the system and how to present themselves as victims when confronted by the law. They’re duping well-meaning persons in society into believing that they’re other than they are; that’s heartless killers preying upon weak and vulnerable people in communities.
Now, no one knows this better than us at the police as we see every one of those murdered persons where they fell. We deploy our first responders, our detectives, our crime scene personnel and victim support personnel in the communities, and we share their pain. There’s an urgency to what we do as a society, and it’s on this basis that there is no place for reticence in using every tool that is available to us collectively in order to deal with this situation. It’s how we’re going to staunch the bloodletting, and it’s against this backdrop that in consultation with the CDS, we have requested the use of emergency powers under a limited state of emergency in the named parishes and divisions.
In previous states of emergencies in the mentioned parishes that we’ll be covering,
we saw significant declines in murders and shootings when we put the measures in place. If we can just remind people that when we first brought it in, we had a 70% reduction in murders in St. James, a 61% reduction in St. Catherine and overall, an average in all areas/ divisions that we use these measures an average of 40% reduction. We are seeking similar reductions as we go into the end of the year and into next year and this 40% translates to a lot of lives, a lot of our citizens, a lot of people.
The communities with the greatest exposure to violence have repeatedly asked for these measures. They understand the qualitative difference when the criminals are not in their midst so even if the criminals are not shooting, once they are there in the community, they create fear in the community. This is a measure to keep communities safe and to give them a break from people who they know, and they have been supporting us along with our other intelligence-gathering mechanisms to identify the persons who are creating these problems. It’s not all the time that we’ll have the evidence upfront to be able to deal with them but we’ll usually have strong intelligence on the matter. The law also gives us some enhanced powers of search which we’ll use and greater flexibility in the use of our human resources.
As we push into the final weeks of the year, we’re mindful, as the Prime Minister indicated of our public order and traffic management responsibilities and we have to do both. We have to balance both, but ultimately, we have to be concerned and ready to deal with this matter of violence and we’ll continue to do so with the powers. Without the powers, we will continue to do as best we can, but I can tell you that with the powers, we’ll have a greater effect on what we are trying to get done. We always ask for the public’s assistance when we are carrying out these measures and public support for what we are doing. Sometimes it may be a little inconvenient, but largely I believe that we have been building bridges with our public and our communities, and we have an understanding that the JCF and our partners the JDF are here to support what we are trying to get done. Thank you.
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness:
Thank you, Commissioner. I now invite the Chief of Defence Staff to give details of the boundaries and other aspects of the emergency measures.
Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman:
Thank you, Prime Minister.
Ministers of government, members of the press, and citizens of Jamaica, good morning.
The Jamaica Defense Force as part of the Joint Security Force apparatus supports recommendations for the declaration of the States of Public Emergency across the parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, St. James, Clarendon, St. Catherine, Kingston and sections of St. Andrew.
Through our analysis and intelligence gathering, we continue to recognize the influence of gangs as a primary contributor to violence with illegal weapons and ammunition and their criminal and violent actions continue to be fueled by the ill-gotten gains of extortion, contract killings, lottery scamming and other forms of criminality. These gangs are continuously engaged in intense intra and inter-gang conflicts which are the leading cause of high levels of murders and shootings across the country. These gangsters are determined to destroy your country and the potential for growth and development.
Following the Prime Minister’s decision to accept the recommendation for imposition of states of public emergency, is my duty to inform you that the areas under the state of public emergency shall consist of the entire area of land comprising the parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, St. James, Clarendon, and St. Catherine within the established parish boundaries as well as all the police divisions in Kingston and St. Andrew except for St. Andrew Central and St. Andrew North. The borders for all the states of public emergencies have been published and can be seen on the screen.
As always, we acknowledge that persons may be concerned about the implications of internal security operations under the state of public emergency. Law-abiding citizens need not fear the security forces, this SOE is for you. It will ease the burden of criminality in your community. Further, we want to assure citizens that both the JDF and the JCF are adequately trained and oriented to protect the human rights of all Jamaicans. Citizens will encounter various increased operational activities including but not limited to vehicle checkpoints, mobile patrols and curfews; these operational activities are not aimed at inconveniencing you but rather to assist in ridding your communities of criminal elements. Therefore, we ask you those who live and work in the areas or travel through them to be mindful and cooperative with the members of the security forces on the ground. I take this time to also ask all citizens, not just those who live in the areas under the now-declared SOE, to see these enhanced security measures as an opportunity to join the fight. Guns, gunmen and gangs are eroding peace in the society and the fight against criminality should not solely be left to the security forces, but rather a unified effort.
You are in the communities, you are witnessing the occurrences, and only through your support will we be able to arrest the situation. Only when citizens share the information and fully participate can we curb the violence in our nation. You can do so by using the JDF tip line at 876-837-8888, or the JCF tip line at 311.
In closing, let me affirm that the JDF is committed to its support to the JCF in securing and safeguarding Jamaica and Jamaicans. Thank you.
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness:
Thank you CDS. I will now invite the Minister of National Security to make his remarks.
Dr. Hon. Horace Chang:
Thank you, Prime Minister.
Commissioner of Police, Major Antony Anderson, Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Wemyss Gorman, Minister of Government, members of the media present, Jamaicans listening in at home and abroad.
The changing nature of gang conflict in the last six months has seen an increased number of, what’s the term, drive-by shootings resulting in significant injury and even death to innocent bystanders. This, of course, leads to increased fear in our communities by law-abiding citizens. The random nature of these things, and the brazen activity of the criminals which could be seen as a response to the increased dynamic activity of security forces so they move fast, shoot, and run, and therefore less accurately, of course, creating a sense of fear and injuring and hurting our law-abiding citizens.
The nature of this activity demands extraordinary measures to protect the lives of our citizens and restore a level of order within our communities. On the advice of the Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Staff, the Governor General has accepted the declaration of a State of Public Emergency in the areas outlined by the chief of staff. The coming to being of Firearms Act has given the police an additional tool that will be very effective in removing from the community several serious criminal elements who have been acting with impunity for some time. We urge citizens to cooperate with the security forces and all in their efforts to apprehend these criminals and rid the community of this kind of criminality. It is of far more importance that we reduce the number of guns in the communities while we pursue relentlessly the criminal actors and seek to append them, and remove them from the community at this point in time, a very important season for Jamaicans; as we approach the season of goodwill, we will look for the guns.
We have offered an amnesty and we have seen a few coming in. Those in fact we actually anticipated, guns that were at home and have not been licensed for some time. The criminals have yet to respond in significant numbers but we’ll be looking for them in every corner in particular in these 10 police divisions that we have identified.
The weapon of choice in inspiring fear and killing Jamaican citizens, we will pursue them and hunt them and apprehend them. The government is committed to utilizing all available tools in our pursuit of disrupting gangs, locking away the dons and the criminal elements that seek to inspire fear and disrupt peace and good order in society. The State of Public Emergency is designed to provide the security forces in times like these with the most effective tool to effectively disrupt the highly resourced organized and brutal gangs who are moving as if they’re free to move around. They move brazenly and with impunity, we will stop this. The state of public emergency will restore order and it is in the interest of our citizens as we seek to protect lives and ensure that Jamaicans can move around in this season safely and with a high level of comfort as they seek to enjoy the holiday season that so many Jamaicans look towards. Thank you.
The Honourable. Robert Morgan:
Thank you very much, Dr Chang. First I want to apologize to members of the media. We were a bit late this morning, not characteristic of us in recent times. We had actually sent you an advisory, but we had a meeting to discuss these matters before, so we made a little error in sending out the advisory so we want to apologize to you and the viewers who were waiting. We will now be taking questions. We are offering one question and a follow-up to each member of the media as the Prime Minister has another function he has to attend so please identify yourself and your media house and then ask your question and we will answer. May we begin, Mr Arthur Hall?
Mr Arthur Hall:
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness:
That’s a very good question. Thanks for asking. Firstly, any impact on disrupting gangs, taking guns out of the hands of gunmen and criminals, any impact on disrupting criminal networks, any impact on diverting young people from crime and deviant action will not only have an immediate impact during the period of the establishment of the state of public emergency, but it will have a long-lasting impact relative to the length of the initial emergency actions that were implemented. So we expect, as we have seen, that once we have implemented a state of public emergency, there is a residual effect so we expect that even for 14 days, we will have an impact on murder rates, a positive impact on public order, and a positive impact on the recovery of guns and a positive impact on the reduction of shootings and a general improvement of the security circumstances heading into the Christmas season.
As I said, we are hopeful and we expect that the opposition, like every other Jamaican who sees the problem of crime and violence, will make a thoughtful decision to support these actions.
Mr Arthur Hall:
I assume you may take it to the lower house today and have you spoken yet to the opposition counterpart, the opposition leader, or the opposition spokesperson on national security?
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness:
Well, the Attorney General is here and other persons who are more knowledgeable on the constitutional arrangements for states of public emergency but as of the declaration of His Excellency the Governor General, the State of Emergency is in effect. Seven days following the declaration, we will table in parliament the regulations but the regulations are already in effect and will be available for people to scrutinize. I have spoken informally to the leader of the opposition and we have had outreach to other members in the opposition. Bear in mind, what I have said that I have been petitioned- petitioned is a strong word, appealed to, to put some action in place both by members on my side of the government and members opposite, and indeed some have expressed the view that the situation warrants a state of public emergency because there are areas which were for a year or so without problems, and then they have seen new gang activities emerging, sometimes gang activities that are not initiated here in Jamaica but initiated overseas that have caused a disruptive effect on communities and they are a concern. I think they have to resolve when I say they, the members opposite us in parliament have to resolve the protection of the lives of citizens over their political positions that they have expressed.