KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday May 8, 2019 – Parliament last night voted to extend the states of emergency (SOEs) that were declared in three parishes last month.
With the support of the Opposition Parliamentarians – with the exception of one who voted against the measure – the SOEs in St James, Westmoreland and Hanover have been extended for another 90 days.
Of the 45 MPs who were in the 63-member House of Representatives when the vote was taken, 44 voted in favour. Only the People’s National Party (PNP) Peter Bunting voted against it.
Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in agreeing not to block the extension, said the situation had to be brought under control “for the sake of law-abiding Jamaican people”.
However, he made it clear there would be “no repeat of last year”, referring to multiple extensions to SOEs in St James last year. The initial state of emergency in St James began in January 2018 but came to an end on January 31 this year after the Opposition refused to support any more extensions.
Explaining the need for the SOEs, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the extremely high rate of violent criminal activity is of such a nature and on such an extensive scale that it endangers public safety.
“The extraordinary level of violent crimes in Jamaica has been a feature of our society for far too long, and while it has impaired our development for decades, the greatest cost to our nation has been the many lives that have been lost,” he said.
“The citizens of western Jamaica have fully endorsed the granting of additional powers to the security forces to save their lives, and this, likewise, must compel us to endorse the request for an extension.”
Over the period January 1 to April 28, 2019, St James produced the highest number of murders among the police divisions, with 51.
The Prime Minister noted that this figure represents a significant increase of 70 per cent, when compared to the equivalent period in 2018.
“Likewise at the time of the declaration, Westmoreland with 43 murders, reflected the second-highest number of murders over the period. St. James and Westmoreland, being adjoined parishes, compound the concerns, considering the fact that the combined and continuous geographical space has accounted for 22 per cent of all murders, to date,” he said.
Holness pointed out that when combined with the third adjoining parish of Hanover, the collective space accounts for more than a quarter of the murders committed in the island since the start of the year.
There are 56 active gangs operating in the tri-parish region now under the SOE, with 17 of them currently at war over turf.
Under the SOE, the security forces have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and detain people without a warrant.