139 new gangs in five years
The number of gangs in Jamaica appears to have skyrocketed over the past five years.
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said that based on the latest assessment carried out by the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, at the end of 2019, Jamaica had 389 criminal gangs.
That is 139 more than the number quoted in 2014. Ninety-nine of those gangs were said to be active.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Chang said some 250 of the current 389 gangs are deemed to be active. He said that Area Four, which comprises the Kingston Western, Kingston Central, Kingston Eastern, St Andrew Central and St Andrew South Police divisions, accounted for 249, or 64 per cent, of the total number.
"In the last 30 years, we have developed a gang culture and some of it has to do with the high rate of dropouts in our males out of high school from about grade nine. That therefore provides a large body of young males who are not very productive. Some of them don't have any skill level and those who have jobs, do not get ones that pay them the amount of money that they want. So they get caught up in the grey area of the economy which pays good money; whether it is drugs, scamming or just riding shotgun with somebody who is doing the business," Chang said.
He stated that these young men often form fraternities for themselves and are often assisted by scammers and druggists to purchase firearms.
Focused on guns
"With the guns, they get bigger and stronger, whether in robbery and other criminal activities, or just building bigger gangs," he said.
Meanwhile, Chang said that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is advanced in establishing a special multi-agency, anti-gang task force, focused on guns, gangs and dons and their proceeds.
He said that the JCF's Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch is working in close collaboration with the Proactive Investigations Unit at the divisional level for greater effectiveness in targeting criminal gangs.
Chang said that 323 or 83 per cent of the gangs were classified as "first generation".
"A lot of them are called first generation gangs which are a group of young men that you see on the corners and persons will supply them with guns, and their main focus is on turf protection and control for financial gains. Then there are the second generation gangs that are more organised and they are involved in extortion and gang activity that you see happening. Then there are a few what we call third generation, exhibited more centralised leadership and focused primarily on organised crime," he said.
Chang noted, however, that despite the high number of gangs, the past year has seen a decline in inter-gang wars.
In addition to the anti-gang task force, the Jamaica National Service Corps would target young males, offering them productive activities to keep them occupied.