Jamaica has suffered a sharp uptick in murders this year, raising fears that a shift in the island nation’s criminal dynamics is to blame.
As of August 24, 775 people had been murdered this year in Jamaica, according to government statistics obtained by The Gleaner. This figure represents a 20 percent increase over the same period in 2014, when 643 people were killed.
According to The Gleaner, 12 of Jamaica’s 19 police divisions have reported an increase in homicides. The parishes of St. James and Clarendon have seen a 60 percent and 42 percent increase in murders, respectively.
Derrick Smith, Opposition Spokesman on National Security, said Jamaica was in the midst of a “murder wave,” and that “every month for this year, including August, is showing an increase [in murders] over the last year.”
However, National Security Minister Peter Bunting estimated 2015 would end with “about 1,200 murders,” the same amount as 2013 “and almost 500 fewer than the 1,692 murders in 2009.”
InSight Crime Analysis
Jamaica's murder count has fluctuated in recent years. For instance, the 1,124 murders recorded in 2011 marked the country’s lowest homicide rate since 2003. Yet violence spiked once again in 2013, with the rise in murders blamed on increased gang activity. In 2014, Jamaica registered a total of 1,005 homicides, a 16 percent decrease from the previous year.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Jamaica
Jamaica’s powerful -- and politically influential -- gangs have regularly been pointed to as a principal cause of violence; the rise and fall of homicides in certain areas appears partly attributable to shifting gang feuds and truces.
The recent spike in murders may therefore reflect changing dynamics in Jamaica’s criminal underworld -- similar to what occurred following the 2010 arrest and subsequent extradition of famed Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The power vacuum created by his detention led to heightened violence as competing groups jockeyed for control of his criminal empire.
Government officials have offered their own hypotheses for what could be driving violence in Jamaica this year. Smith blamed the murder spike on the country’s economic troubles, saying it has made young men “feel hopeless,” and thereby “making them easy targets for criminal gangs.” Bunting, without further elaboration, said there were several factors contributing to a rise in violent crime, “many of which are outside the control of law enforcement.”