KINGSTON – The Jamaica government on Friday declared a state of public emergency (SOE) in the parish of St Catherine, citing rampant criminality and lawlessness and the need to protect citizens from escalating criminal violence.
“It must never be said that the government did not act. As Prime Minister you elected me to discharge my duties fully in support of the defence of the first and most important right, which is the right to life,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness said.
“The government has to act. The government cannot sit by and see innocent Jamaicans going about their business…having to be scurrying for their lives. The government has to act. That is the government’s duty,” he said.
But he promised that the authorities would “act within the boundaries of our laws and constitution and we rely on our courts to give us guidance and interpretation and we will always dutifully, responsibly follow up the guidance of the courts as they interpret the law”.
Holness said he had asked the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, to declare the SOE on the recommendations of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police
The state of public emergency allow the security forces, or authorised persons, enhanced powers of search and arrest and limit the right of detained persons to due process. The measure can only remain in force for 14 days and must get the support of both Houses of Parliament.
But the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has expressed concerns about the use of SOEs in crime-fighting. It voted previous efforts to extend the measures.
Holness told the nation that the government has as its first responsibility “the preservation and protection of life”.
He said while the government keeps track of deaths of all kinds in the country, it is important for the government to ensure that the average citizen “feels safe and secure from various
“We accept and understand that persons in our society will die, death is a part of life,” he said, noting that death by violence however “is pretty much a disease and should be treated as such.
“Indeed in our society, unfortunately we have come to accept violence, if not normalise violence. We have calculated into our normal social interactions violence, so that it would appear that there is no sense of urgency when we lose lives as a result of violence including organised and calculated violence”.
Holness said that the authorities have to pay attention to “three actors” as it relates to deaths by violence, namely “Dons who lead gangs and who use guns…guns…and we have to pay attention as well to our young people, particularly our young males who get pulled into gangs organised by Dons and given guns”.
He said the main cause of violence is one what creates fear “indeed the terror that we are seeing in some communities is as a result of the organised criminal activity”.
Police Commissioner, Antony Anderson, who also addressed the news conference, told reporters that the recently declared SOE in St Catherine is a result of 12 active gang conflicts which can and has resulted in several murders and shootings in the parish.
“Since the beginning of 2022, in St Catherine, we have arrested 82 persons for the possession of illegal firearm, ammunition or both and seized 59 illegal guns, an increase of 28 per cent compared to last year. We have also continued to prosecute gangs and gang members and are leading several active community engagement programs across the parish.”
However, despite these efforts, Anderson said crime in the parish has continued to spiral out of control.
“As at June 15, the St Catherine North Division recorded 70 murders and 51 shootings, representing a 52 per cent and 76 per cent increase respectively when compared to the similar period in 2021. Meanwhile, in the St Catherine South Division, 58 murders were recorded over the period as was the case last year and 53 shootings recorded compared to 43 last year, an increase of 20 per cent,” he told reporters.
The Police Commissioner said that up to six weeks ago, the St Catherine South Division was experiencing a reduction in murders by 40 per cent but said the recent conflicts in the St Catherine North Division have extended into the southern section of the parish to include Portmore and Old Harbour.
“As a consequence, and in consultation with the Chief of Defense Staff, we requested that a state of public emergency be declared,” he said.
“We continue our focus on gangs, guns and gunmen. The ‘Get All The Illegal Guns’ Campaign continues with 368 illegal guns seized — an increase of eight per cent. We have already seized 48 illegal guns and we have also seized 7,449 rounds of ammunition — an increase of 52 per cent over last year.
“There is likely to be some disruptions and delays and we ask for your patience and understanding as we collectively respond to the violence in St Catherine,” Anderson added. (CMC)