After reports of increased military presence in the parish of St James on the morning of Thursday, January 18, 2018, a press briefing was called at Jamaica House at 12pm, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared state of emergency in St James. Also present at the briefing were the Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, Police Commissioner George Quallo, and JDF Chief of Defence Staff Rocky Meade. They each made brief presentations clarifying different aspects of the State of Emergency (SOE). Below, in point form, is an almost verbatim reproduction of their main statements.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Why call State of Emergency?
- “The level of criminal activity experienced [in St James] is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety. In consideration of this, I wrote to the Governor General recommending the declaration of a state of public emergency for the parish of St James.”
- Under a state of emergency, security forces will have extraordinary powers.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck:
Period of public emergency can be declared if:
- Governor General (GG) is satisfied that action taken by person or body of persons is likely to endanger public safety
- Emergency Powers Act empowers GG to make regulations during a period of public emergency
- Proclamation declaring SOE has been gazetted
- St James has systematically recorded highest number of murders in the nation
- Number of murders in St James is twice as high as parish with second highest murders
- Emergency Powers Regulation 2018 will be tabled in Parliament in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act
National Security Minister Robert Montague:
- Usual activities will be curtailed
- Operations targeted at criminal elements
- Will be relentless as they pursue criminals
- There will be roadblocks and operations as [civilians] travel
- Now is the time to tell us who the gunmen and gangsters are. A gun man and gangster in your community is a danger to you.
Commissioner of Police George Quallo:
- To date, St James has presented a major challenge to police operations
- Last years, they recorded 335 murders, almost twice more than the parish with the second-highest murders
- [There have been] numerous gangs in the parish, creating an atmosphere of insecurity
- [There have been] numerous incidents where high-powered weapons are used
- Innocent civilians are victims of cross fire
- Disrupt [criminal] activities
- Regularise security action
- Protection of rights of citizens
They will be:
- Going after wanted men
- Seizing weapons to take back communities
- Set up hot line for St James citizens: 830-8888 (to be manned by JDF)
- Can also be used to confidentially give info on wanted criminals and weapons
- Reward being offered for information on guns and wanted men, citizens reminded to call Crime Stop at 311
Rocky Meade, Chief of Defence Staff:
- In support of the SOE, requested call out of Jamaica National Reserves
- Deployed additional troops to St James
What you can expect:
- All persons using all roads leading in and out of St James may be subject to vehicle search
- In various areas of city and townships, joint patrols – static and mobile – will be operational
- Troops will be pursuing wanted persons, violence producers … and require cooperation of citizens
- May be stopped at checkpoints
- May be asked for info to verify ID
- May be asked to declare if you have any weapons to declare
- May be asked to facilitate a search of vehicle and self
- Troops have been refreshed in training of human rights, and all citizens can feel safe as long as they are not threatening the troops
- Going after those responsible for murders, lotto scamming, trafficking, drugs …
- Welcome scrutiny of public, and can report any info on mistreatment. Welcome media but they must let them know that they will be entering the space. There are no restrictions on media accessing the space.
1. Why did it take so long for this action?
Holness: Government has been contemplating for some time.
- Requires great deal of planning, as it is not just action for show. They have to plan out their open and end game, and that takes time. More importantly, it takes resources. “I believe that we are now at the point where actions are aligned with resources.”
- Government can’t act without public support, and given context in which calling SOE (having gone through one in 2010), must always be considerate of what happened, ensure learn form errors and [that it is] not done in an arbitrary away. It is instrumental, well-planned-out action
2. Can we see publication [of the Gazette allowing the SOE]?
Holness: Yes. We have deliberately stuck to what is in the law. We have not declared a limited state of emergency. It is a state of public emergency.
3. I know Meade mentioned that the reserves were called out. How will security forces police two ZOSOs and the rest of country?
Holness: We did not take this action arbitrarily. [He reiterated his answer to Question 1].
- The resource is not just monetary or motor vehicles. The real critical resource is to have troops and forces on the ground.
- There are some questions that we will not answer because we do not want to disclose our strategic position.
4. How long will the SOE last for, and if anyone has tried the number, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Holness: We will not declare to the public for strategic reasons.
- Re number: certain that security forces will respond to your call.
Did you contemplate this at time of ZOSO? What, to your mind, is the rubicon that has been crossed at this time? Can the police, given the lack of mobility, be of any significant impact at this time? How do we know that it will be more effective than ZOSO?
Holness: We have put together a comprehensive crime plan. There is some amount of panic in the country. All we are doing is deliberate and strategic. We recognise this problem for the last 30 years of geometric increase in crime, especially murders. We can’t say any of the interventions other than last SOE has resulted in significant reduction. What we have learnt is you cannot be forced into it, you have to plan it, because the moment you use it as a reactionary tool, you will [lose] …
[The ZOSOs were] to give the public a level of assurance that the Government can use force without violence. Objectives of the zones were:
- Reduce murder
- Restore order
- Build public confidence in Force
“There is the notion that the only way to fight crime is to go and kill people. [It is] not my intention to do so. We fight crime by enforcing the law and we can only enforce the law by using force in a lawful way. We have taken a great deal of time to ensure that the use of extraordinary powers are within the law. Even this exercise is a demonstration that the Jamaican state can be trusted to use law in defence of citizens, even criminals.”
Tourism concern (question was inaudible):
Holness: [We] have put that in the equation, and several stakeholders, including in the tourism industry, have written to say they would support the necessary actions to bring the parish under control and restore public safety. The public can be assured that security forces will act in a way that will be a credit to the destination. [The current state of global tourism] would expect greater security presence.
Question about searches (was inaudible):
Meade: The powers that we have allow us to search, and I have encouraged my troops to be polite, out of respect for citizens.
- See our timeline of how events around the St James SOE unfolded
- See our infographics explaining What is A State of Emergency and how this affects citizen
- A Closer Look at All Jamaica’s States of Emergency: A historical perspective and synopsis of each
See also, the Gleaner’s reports on the St James State of Emergency: