NewsBalford HenryThursday, July 18, 2013
SECURITY Minister Peter Bunting said yesterday the 70 to 80 per cent of homicides attributed to criminal gangs by the police show the urgency and importance of the Anti-Gang Bill now before the legislature.“Broadly speaking, over the last five years or so, the number of gangs that the police have identified have fluctuated between 250 and 300 across the island. That gives an idea of the urgency and the importance of this Bill,” Bunting told the preliminary meeting of the Joint Select Committee on the Bill at Gordon House.He said that the police have been “very strident” in calling for its passage through Parliament as they consider it “an important tool in the arsenal of combating organised crime”.Bunting proposed that Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, or his representative, should be the first person to appear before the committee. However, the review of the Bill will not start until September 18, when the committee hopes to have the submissions from stakeholders and available staff.But, the fact that the sitting was preliminary did not stop Opposition spokesperson on youth, sports and culture, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, raising her concerns about police picking up youths in certain communities, for interrogation and fingerprinting, and giving the impression that they are linked with particular gangs; then releasing them without explaining that no links with gangs or criminality were identified.“Just because they are from a particular community, they are labelled members of a particular gang because that community is linked to the gang. That is how the communities are stigmatised, and I want to know how we are going to treat with that,” she declared.Bunting insisted that yesterday’s meeting was procedural, in terms of planning how the review of the Bill would proceed, and urged members to wait until they have heard the submissions to start raising questions. He said that the committee has already received submissions from Dr Elizabeh Warren, chairperson of the Violence Prevention Alliance, and Horace Levy, Jamaica Civil Society Coalition director.Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding told the members that the Bill would not confer any new powers of arrest or rights of detention on the police.The Bill was formally tabled in the House of Representatives on June 25 as the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, 2013, by Bunting. It aims at dismantling Jamaica’s criminal organisations or gangs.Security Minister Peter Bunting, chairman of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament considering the Anti-Gang Bill, makes a point at the inaugural meeting of the committee at Gordon House, yesterday. Beside him is Monica Robinson, committee clerk.
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