Senior cop cautious about turnaround in St Andrew South
Although murders and shootings have declined markedly since January 2022, the St Andrew South Police Division still remains a ticking timebomb, according to its commanding officer Senior Superintendent Kirk Ricketts.
The senior cop noted that the blood-soaked policing space was still home to more than 40 gangs, whose members actively seek ways to wreak havoc among law-abiding citizens.
"The space is too volatile for us to relax," Ricketts told THE STAR on Tuesday. Ricketts also shared that while he may see progress, gang activities continue to play a major role in more than 30 communities.
"If you go into most of the warring communities, people can't move as freely from the top to the bottom. That tells you that the conflicts have not been resolved, and at any given moment the pipe can burst," he said. Police data recorded between January 1 to March 11, reveal that 12 persons have been murdered when compared with 23 during the corresponding period in 2022. The 48 per cent reduction is a continuation of the steady decline that the division has been seeing lately. It finished 2022 with 130 murders, 34 less than 2021. Ricketts disclosed that last year's figures were the lowest murder tally recorded in the division in six years. But Ricketts said he was not convinced that the space was completely reformed.
"We still have our gangs and many of the conflicts have still not been resolved. What we have done, however, is to push them into some levels of dormancy," he said. "I will always use the words 'cautious optimism' because we still believe that too many firearms are in these communities and too many gang members still reside in these communities."
However, Ricketts said that many of the known violence producers have fled the space as the police continue to engage them in various strategic operations.
"It is not sustainable for us to keep a community by just trying to dominate the community, we don't have enough police and soldiers for that. So one of the main things is to target individuals in the community that we believe to be contributing to the violence. We have been able to interdict a number of these persons, a number of them were arrested," he said.
"Even though some of those known players have left, what we know is that there is always a ready replacement. There is a host of youngsters vying to fill the leadership gang vacuums. So we are tying to use these intervention programmes to prevent that," he said.
Those programmes involve community walk-throughs and other social activities geared at bettering relations between the police and citizens.
"We have our concert series, which we called 'Widely Publicised Meeting', where we take music to the people and try to give them a different side of the police. We have engaged our community members on radio. We now have a talk show on Roots FM every Thursday. We are trying to find different ways to communicate with the people, to partner with them. Recently we started to communicate with them through social media, Facebook, Instagram and such," he said.