SOE leak - Hundreds of vehicles go unstopped at security checkpoint
For nearly three-quarters of an hour yesterday, nearly 300 vehicles were able to drive freely through a police-military checkpoint mounted at the intersection of Chisholm Avenue and Omara Road as part of the state of emergency (SOE) across the St Andrew South Police Division.
This unfolded around midday while police and army personnel deployed there were either seated in a tent erected on Ricketts Avenue or standing at the checkpoint on Chisholm Avenue, a Gleaner team observed.
It was not as easy for motorists driving through the checkpoints established on Waltham Park Road, near Hagley Park Road, or on Olympic Way, near Seaward Drive. Over separate 15-minute periods, police and soldiers at both locations searched 70 of the 178 vehicles that went through, in some cases requesting to see vehicle documentation.
St Andrew South is one of six police divisions where the Government, on the advice of the heads of the security forces, has imposed SOEs. Last year, a total of 166 persons were killed in communities that fall within the St Andrew South Police Division, the highest of the 19 divisions islandwide.
On Monday night, the division recorded its first double murder of 2020 when gunmen invaded the home of a common-law couple a short distance from the SOE checkpoint on Chisholm Avenue. Residents reported hearing three loud explosions around 10:30 p.m., but it was not until shortly after daybreak on Tuesday that they discovered the bodies of Valda Ellis, 56, and Robert Gordon, 54, both shot in the head execution-style.
Their hands and feet were bound with cords, according to a neighbour, who identified himself only as Dennis. According to him, Gordon’s mouth was covered with tape.
“We didn’t even hear a groan. Not a sound,” said one woman.
Ellis’ youngest daughter, Taska Davis, was inconsolable, describing her mother as hard-working and kind.
“She always a try fi do something, she always a try,” said Davis.
A soldier at one of the checkpoints told The Gleaner that they are “not required to search every vehicle”.
“It is not profiling, but there are certain things that we look for,” he said, explaining the basis on which vehicles are flagged for searches.
“You have people taking JUTC (the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company) buses and the Knutsford Express and think we don’t know them.”
At 11:50 a.m., a Gleaner news team took up position a few metres from the Chisholm Avenue checkpoint. By 12:01p.m., some 73 vehicles, including a Toyota Probox motor car with no licence plates, had gone through the checkpoint while members of the security forces sat under a tent around the corner on Ricketts Avenue.
At 12:02 p.m., a team of police and soldiers took up position at the checkpoint, but it was not until 12:26 p.m., or 217 vehicles later, that they checked the first car – a grey Suzuki Swift – followed by a Honda Stream.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. Can you roll down your windows?” a policeman asked the driver of the Honda.
She complied. After peering inside the vehicle, he instructed her to proceed.
By contrast, 95 cars went through the checkpoint on Waltham Park Road between 12:41 p.m. and 12:56 p.m., and 29 were searched by the team of police and soldiers who had taken up position in the middle of the busy thoroughfare.
Since they have been deployed there, according to one member of the Jamaica Defence Force, two wanted men have been apprehended. In addition, he said their presence has improved public order in an area overrun by taxis and other public passenger vehicles.
“One Coaster bus driver stopped and complained that there were some men on the bus who were refusing to pay their fares. A JUTC driver also stopped and asked us to check out some men who were on his bus,” he disclosed.
Between 1:11 p.m. and 1:26 p.m., some 83 vehicles went through the checkpoint on Olympic Way, 41 of which – including a truck loaded with premixed cement – were searched by security personnel standing in the middle of the roadway.
The utility of checkpoints has been a hotly debated topic since the first in a slew of recent SOEs was implemented in January 2018 in St James and extended across the island. Most checkpoints, particularly in the Corporate Area, have been sited at nodes that do not restrict criminals from using a variety of alternative routes to evade security personnel.
The SOEs – which suspend many civic rights and allow for long detentions without charge – has had mixed success. While the majority of police divisions, like Westmoreland and Clarendon, have recorded a dip in violent crime, others such as St James and St Andrew South continue to be dogged by bloodshed.