THE MINISTER SPEAKS: Desmond McKenzie, Minister of Local Government and Community Development (left), responds to questions posed by noted Montego Bay Attorney-at-Law, Clay-ton Morgan, (at microphone) during a town hall meeting hosted by the St. James Municipal Corporation at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre last Thursday. Morgan raised concerns about the extended stay of many detainees under the State of Public Emergency. Also at the head table with Minister McKenzie are Major Garth Anderson of the Jamaica Defence Force and As-sistant Commissioner of Police, Ealon Powell.

Barrington Flemming – Staff Reporter

Hundreds of unattached youths across St. James are being drafted into the island’s security forces. Desmond McKenzie, Minister of Local Government and Community Development, told a town hall meeting at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre last Thursday that the youths detained under the State of Public Emergency and the Zone of Special Operations in Mount Salem, who have clean criminal records, are being encouraged to join the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force.

“Once you hold them and they are clean, you offer them an alternative. We are encouraging many of them, who have the requisite qualification, to join the army, join the police force; become firefighters. You will see a significant number, both in Mt. Salem and Denham Town and other areas, who got caught in the dragnet but after they were checked, they went into the system. Over 250 of them are in an advanced stage of training and they are going to form the nucleus of those who are going to extend the Jamaica Defence Force and the Police Force.”

And, the minister has shot down suggestions from noted Montego Bay Attorney, Clayton Morgan, that young men being detained for extended periods under the State of Public Emergency (Enhanced Security Measures) are being coached into becoming hardened criminals.

Morgan made the suggestion during the question-and-answer segment of the town hall meeting, hosted by the St. James Municipal Corporation, on the Enhanced Security Measures at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Thursday.

“You spoke about young men in custody who we are turning into hard core criminals; nobody can turn you into something that you are not. While there might be some who are unfortunate, I say show me your company and I tell you who you are,” McKenzie said.

He insisted that based on intelligence received by the security forces, the majority of those persons being held in detention are deemed to be threats to safety and security.

“Based on the intelligence that the security forces have obtained, ninety-eight percent of those who are in custody now are going to be a threat to the security and stability of the community, that is why they are in custody. I don’t have to pull the trigger to contribute to the crime. I can be a partner, a significant partner, without holding a gun in my hands,” McKenzie explained.

Murders down, traffic infractions soar

Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ealan Powell, who was one of the panelists at the town hall meeting, commended the introduction of the State of Public Emergency in St. James for a major reduction in murders over the period January 18 to April 12.

“For the period January 18 to April 12, since the introduction of the State of Public Emergency, there were 14 murders, down from 62, for the same period last year, a reduction of 77.5 percent. There was also a 60 percent reduction in shootings in the parish,” Powell revealed.

He said 28 firearms, ten of which are AK-47 and M16 rifles, were seized over the period, and 94 persons arrested and charged for various crimes.

He said whilst that was significant, it was also noteworthy the number of traffic tickets issued over the same period, citing that it pointed to the fact that law and order were lacking in the parish.

“The police have written 11,000 traffic tickets since January 18 aimed at correcting wayward behaviour.  The Road Traffic Act was obviously not meant for St. James, as we also seized 910 cars operating as robots, not license stakeholders,” he explained.

He says for the security forces to reap success in its crime-fighting efforts, it would require the collective effort of the citizenry as well.