Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday promised additional measures to fight crime, including money to pay the legal expenses of police fingered by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), and legislation to prevent persons suspected in violent crimes being given bail.
Holness told Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters yesterday that the Government intends to include the funds in the Supplementary Estimates (Budget), expected to be tabled next Wednesday in the House of Representatives, to provide legal support for the police who face the court for the shooting of suspects, as well as reintroduce legislation to have persons charged with gun crimes refused bail in court.
Holness made the announcement when he touched on the emotional issue of murders, in an impassioned speech to thousands of “Labourites” who jammed the National Area for the JLP’s annual conference, yesterday afternoon — the first conference held in three years.
He noted that a previous JLP Government, led by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, had introduced INDECOM, which investigates charges of breaches of civilians’ rights by the security forces.
He noted that INDECOM’s assignment resulted from the tough and extreme measures introduced to tackle violent crimes in the 1990s. Those measures failed to reduce violent crimes, and ended up damaging Jamaica’s human rights reputation, internationally, he said.
“That period has benefited us because, I believe, the security forces now understand the need to treat citizens with respect and dignity, and to respect the human rights of every citizen,” Holness stated.
He said that it has been accepted that only the courts have the right, under the Constitution, to deprive anyone of their rights, and that there is a process of investigations to bring the suspect to justice, which is significant.
He said that currently there are desperate cries for more “tough and extreme measures” to deal with criminals, but Jamaica could not go back to the measures which were included in the suppression of crime legislation in the past.
“We have to fight crime with law. We have to fight crime with intelligence. We have to fight crime with citizens cooperating by providing information, and not giving succor to criminals in their communities.
“I want you, the people who support the party on the ground, to understand where we have to go. The balance has to be struck. The police force is being heavily criticised, and I don’t think that they can take any more criticism, because I believe that the criticism is affecting the morale of the force.
“I believe that sometimes INDECOM goes too far, and places our police officers on the retreat. That means that a balance has to be struck. We need our policemen to be motivated. We need our policemen to feel that they are protected in fighting crime,” Holness argued.
“So we have provided a sum of resources in the Supplementary Estimates to support the legal fees of the police, so that when they are doing their job rightfully, they have legal support to go through that process,” he said.
However, he said that instead of promoting the tough and extreme measures of the past, the Government would be promoting its campaign to pay citizens who provide the information which leads to the capture of gunmen and the recovery of weapons and ammunition from its $100-million fund.
“We have to fight crime through intelligence, and we can only get intelligence when you give us the information…If you tell us where the guns are, you will get paid right away,” Holness said.
He said that the Government has targeted 20 communities across Jamaica which are together producing more than 50 per cent of the violent crimes. Only two have been brought under the ZOSO (zone of special operations) Act so far, but over time there will be focus on the others.
“We have to make sure that we plan it out properly, and ensure that the communities will no longer contribute to the crime situation,” he said.
He also noted that Government is planning to bring legislation back to Parliament to make it mandatory for persons who are arrested for committing violent crimes to be detained until they are tried.
He said that he would love to hear those Jamaicans who call for justice in the society “call for justice for those people who are losing their brothers and sisters and daughters to the criminals in this country ”.
“People who commit these kinds of murders should not get bail and allowed to go out and kill witnesses. I believe the people who cry for justice should support that, because that is justice for all Jamaicans,” the prime minister said.
Such a call by the prime minister may be condemned by defence lawyers, who will likely suggest that by not supporting bail for alleged murderers the prime minister is assuming that accused persons are guilty before they are tried.