Clinton Pickering – Freelance Writer
Police personnel posted at the Mt Salem Police Station in Montego Bay are anxious to get out of the building from which operations are being directed. With the building falling to into dereliction, the police find themselves sharing it with familiar company – rodents and insects, and not for the first time.
“It’s horrible and I think they should treat the security forces much better,” says Councillor for the Mt. Salem Division, Kerry Thomas. The station was ordered closed some years ago by the St James Public Health Department because of rat infestation.
The police expect to be out soon as provision is being made for them to relocate to retrofitted premises at the back, while plans are pursued for the current structure to be replaced by a new building, but vacating the infested structure cannot come soon enough.
In September 2018, the health department ordered the station closed due to structural defects and poor hygiene. But closure was averted after the order was issued as the authorities hastened to make remedial repairs while personnel continued their occupation. Whatever work as done, however, was not sustaining and the facility has again fallen into a bad state.
“I think it’s horrible, very, very horrible the way they have treated the Mt Salem Police Station,” Cllr. Thomas reiterated, adding, “ taking into consideration (that) come September, ZOSO would have come to its expiration date and what they should have been doing is looking to transition the operations to a brand new police station in Mt Salem.”
ZOSO is the first Zone of Special Operations imposed by Government on a section of Mt Salem, giving the JCF and the JDF special powers of control over the community and activities carried out by the people. This is against the background of a history of frequent gun violence there up to that point in time.
Concurrently, social agencies of the government, spearheaded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), have been carrying out programmes aimed at transforming the community.
Cllr Thomas added, “Very bad! We’ve been waiting for a police station, as promised under ZOSO (Zone of Special Operations), for almost three years now and to date, not even a tender process has gone out.”
Commanding Officer for the St James Division, Supt. Vernon Ellis, is not so critical in light of interim efforts being made to deal with the problem. He says the station is being relocated to the retrofitted structure at the back, which is air-conditioned and tiled and houses offices, a new guardroom, changing room, a kitchenette, new bathroom and lockers.
However, it is learnt that furniture has not yet been provided for it and personnel posted at the station feel strongly that derelict pieces of furniture that they have been struggling with must be replaced. Additionally, occupancy of the new facility is being held up by structural defects, including plumbing problems and defects with two windows.
At least one civilian is also concerned at the state under which the police personnel now operate, stating in a complaint to the Western Mirror, “I recently made a visit to the Mount Salem Police Station and noticed how deplorable the conditions are. There’s also no changing room or barracks area for the officers to change or take showers. The rest rooms have no lights and no proper locks, the wooden floors are rotting away, waiting for a disaster and in the entire station, there’s only one working electrical socket, so the fridge that’s used to store food and refreshments for the officers is out of use.”
The visitor was also aware that, “There’s currently a retrofitted structure around the back that was completed about a month ago but the officers cannot move into the new building because there’s no new furniture to take to the new building.”
Supt Ellis believes that what has been provided “is a good temporary fit and I must say that it is very suitable.” He pointed out that removal from the old building was also necessary “because they are so advanced in building the station that we are to take the guys out of that part to allow them the opportunity.” He said the area is to be sealed off using ply board and zinc in a short while.
He said with efforts now being made to address concerns, the situation now is not as bad as it used to be.
An administrative officer from Divisional Headquarters at the Freeport Police Station carried out an inspection of the new facility last Wednesday morning, giving rise to hope of an early resolution to the problems.
The old building is to be demolished, making way for construction of a permanent Mt Salem Police Station on the same site.