CAMERON… in Manchester things will just happen without you realising

Mandeville , Manchester — Superintendent Wayne Cameron has been in charge of the Manchester Division for 13 months but he has been so busy, he says it’s like two years.

Also, he feels like he knows “everyone” and that everyone knows him.

Cameron believes those feelings reflect his conscious effort to stay close to the residents of Manchester and to keep his “ears to the ground”.

Keeping close to the people is of particular importance since according to Cameron there are aspects to this south-central parish that are very different to any place he has ever worked.

“Other places I’ve worked you see what we call signs of crime (but) in Manchester things will just happen without you realising that there was ever anything happening under the surface …,” he told Jamaica Observer Central last week.

“So you have to be really alert in this parish because it has the tendency to be quiet. And because of that things could be brewing and that escapes you,” he added.

Thankfully, he says, “for the most part” residents make the task of maintaining law and order easier by cooperating with the police.

That public cooperation has assisted a 12 per cent reduction in major crimes so far this year, although murder has edged up from 41 for all of 2016, to 43 in the middle of last week, Cameron said.

As has been the case for years in Manchester, the category of crime that creates the most headaches for lawmen and women is burglaries (break ins).

“That’s the biggest challenge for police in Manchester, everyone knows that,” said Cameron. “People will break into your house, break into your bars, they will break into churches. Just about any business, people will break into them,” Cameron said.

Up to last week there were 283 break-ins reported in Manchester, up from 271 for the period last year.

The situation was even worse in years past. Cameron noted that there was a time when Manchester was recording 400-odd burglaries per year.

Incidents of rape were at 31 up to last week since the start of the year, compared to 27 for the similar eleven-and-a-half month period the year before.

Cameron said the police were in search of a Demar Scott “who we think can assist us in clearing up some of these rape cases… he is a person of interest, and we are asking the public’s assistance…” Police say the suspect operates in the Baptist Hill, Villa Road area of Mandeville.

Other major crimes have seen decline. There were 28 shootings up to last week, compared to 35 for the similar period last year; 37 cases of aggravated assaults (serious wounding) compared to 57 for the period last year; 105 armed robberies for the period this year compared to 153 last year and there were 21 reported cases of larceny as against 34 for the comparative period last year.

Some satisfaction for Cameron and his team is that the clear-up rate for murder, (someone arrested and charged) is currently at 70 per cent.

Among those facing the courts for murder in 2017 is the alleged “triggerman” in the gun murder of Corporal Melvin Smith. The policeman was shot dead as he attempted to thwart a robbery in Mandeville on the night of October 27. A second man, known to the police, is being sought in relation to that murder.

Contrary to what many people believe, Cameron says armed robbery is not a huge problem in Manchester’s business centres, including Mandeville, although such incidents do occur occasionally.

He pointed to two incidents involving the armed robbery of two animal feed stores in Mandeville in recent weeks, and of another retail store two weeks ago. In the case of the first feed store robbery last month, two accused men are now before the Courts, he said.

In terms of burglaries, Cameron pointed to the prevalence of repeat offenders, some breaking into houses and business places while out on bail.

“The judge will tell you they are entitled to bail, and so not before long after you arrest them, they are going to be given bail and be back on the road. So for instance, since the start of this year we (Manchester police) arrested 37 breakers, 23 of them were given bail, so we have to be monitoring those 23, plus those who are coming back from prison, plus new breakers. We have people from elsewhere who come to Manchester to (break into houses and businesses) from as far away as Westmoreland, St Thomas and all over the place,” he said. Sometimes the migrant criminals partner with locals, Cameron said.

“We put away (sent to prison) two men in September, one Marvin Lynch for 28 break ins, one Garnett Dixon, an ex-policeman for 27 break ins. We actually transported them around and they showed us some of the houses they broke into,” said Cameron.

The Manchester police chief said that since the start of 2017, eight licensed guns had been lost to house-breakers in the division.

“There are instances where the thieves take the vault with the weapon. And so we appeal to licensed firearm holders if they are not going to be at home for an extended period then they need to take their fire arms to FLA (Firearm Licensing Authority) for safekeeping, they can’t leave them at the house,” he said.

As a matter of basic good sense, householders who plan to be away from home for any length of time should inform their neighbours as well as the police, Cameron said. Unfortunately, he said, often that does not happen.

Cameron observed that in communities where there are active neighbourhood watch and citizens’ organizations, burglaries and other crimes tend to be much lower than elsewhere. The police often found themselves having to “drive” such organizations to ensure they stay afloat and active, he said.

Cameron identified Lottery scamming as a big problem.

“Scamming is widespread in Manchester and it has led to murders. There are communities that it (scamming) is entrenched basically,” he said.

He named central Manchester communities including Comfort, Broad Leaf, Grey Ground among those “where a lot of the young men spend their days dealing in lottery scamming”.

According to Cameron: “Part of the challenge is that when they (scammers) have become established and have made some money, they move into other, more established communities, more formal communities and rent apartments and houses. They stay there for a while and then move on to other communities. So basically we have to be playing a kind of catch up with them …”

He noted that pickpockets operate in crowded areas at the centre of Mandeville.

“When I was in St Ann, I never used to hear about pickpockets. I was surprised when I came to Manchester to find it’s a problem here,” he said.

There is a dedicated police team that seeks to target pickpockets but it’s not easy, Cameron said. Since the victims often aren’t aware they were fleeced until long after, many cases go unresolved, he said.

“Over time you (police) learn who some of them (pickpockets) are. So we try to be proactive… (sometimes) when we see them we take them off the streets but we can’t keep them indefinitely (without charge). Just last week we had a (pickpocket) case thrown out of Court for want of evidence,” Cameron said.

His advice to people is to be vigilant and avoid carrying around large amounts of cash and valuables. He noted that the use of cell phones is a major form of distraction for people walking about -causing them to be vulnerable to pick pockets and other thieves.