Jamaica security firms under closer scrutiny for crime links

March 23, 2010 at 3:32 PM
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KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 23 (UPI) -- Jamaica's burgeoning security industry is virtually out of control and needs to be brought into line to work within the regulatory framework, officials said.

Despite the chaotic state of the industry, which has expanded in response to the needs of business, industry and wealthy individuals, gains are being made in terms of standardizing business conduct within the purview of the law and attracting qualified individuals who see a future in pursuing legitimate careers, officials said.

Francine Staple, 39, recently became the Jamaica's first female security coordinator after receiving the U.S.-regulated Physical Security Professional certification. Staple was the only successful candidate at the annual sitting of the examination in Jamaica.

Regulatory authorities issued warnings that members of illegal groups infiltrated security industry ranks and many individuals masquerading as security personnel had links with drug cartels and the criminal underworld.

The Private Security Regulation Authority, controlled by the Jamaican Ministry of National Security, has intensified efforts to set standards for the private security industry to deliver quality service.

Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson said regulatory authorities had been making sure that all members of the security industry followed National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica Level One Standards in Security Operations.

Analysts said the security firms' operators had been dodging compliance and inspections through suspect connections within the government's regulatory framework.

Although the government says all security industry staff members need to have the standard as the basic training requirement dozens of individuals are still untrained. The government has set a target to make the qualification mandatory within the next three years.

PSRA as a statutory body is responsible for oversight of all Jamaican security organizations, proprietary security organizations, private security guards, private investigators and security trainers.

Law enforcement agents have been prime targets for criminal gangs and infiltration of security companies by gangs is one of the common ploys used to weaken government or corporate measures against organized crime.

Analysts said the Jamaican security industry's problems had international implications because of the heavy inflow of tourism from the Americas, Europe and Asia into the country.

Visitors to the Caribbean from cities in North America were likely to be more savvy but they didn't want to spend holiday time in the Caribbean worrying about robbery and theft, analysts said.

An expert interviewed for a Washington Post survey said: "The problem for vacationers is not that the chances of being robbed are no greater in St. Maarten than they are in New York. It's that the chances of being robbed are no lower in St. Maarten than they are in New York. Tourists don't come to the Caribbean expecting to worry about theft, rape and murder."

The growth in crime was the key factor in the dramatic expansion of the security industry in Jamaica, a trend followed elsewhere in the Caribbean.

"In a depressed global economy, with rising levels of unemployment, homelessness and home foreclosures, an increase in criminal activity may be all but inevitable. This is increasingly the case in the Caribbean, which owns some particularly horrific murder statistics," The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer newspaper said.

It cited a report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which said the Caribbean region had the highest murder rate in the world at 30 per 100,000 compared with seven per 100,000 in North America. Only South America and South and West Africa approached the Caribbean homicide level, at 26 and 29 murders per 100,000, respectively, the report said.

A UNODC Crime Trends Survey identified Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago as problem areas. At the same time, all those Caribbean spots have seen growth in security companies, many of which remain unregulated.

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