Although a recent upsurge in criminal activity in and around Montego Bay, Jamaica, prompted security forces to increase the police presence in those areas, tourism officials stressed that the crime outbreaks were limited to the outskirts of Montego Bay, well removed from the beaches and resorts, and have not affected the vital tourism trade.

"As a society, we are concerned with any increase in crime-related activities, but we believe the police have responded adequately to this current situation and can and will bring it under control," said Basil Smith, director of tourism.

Smith attributed the latest crime wave to increased police pressure on crime activity elsewhere in Jamaica, "which caused crime to then shift toward the Montego Bay area."

In a recent televised speech, national security minister Peter Phillips said that most of the additional security forces were sent to St. James Parish. (Jamaica has 14 parishes; Montego Bay is located in St. James.)

"They were sent there with the aim of ensuring the immediate control of crime and the suppression of criminal activity in targeted communities," Phillips said.

"We are going to let the criminals know and feel that the law enforcement capacity of the state is capable of responding to criminal activity," he said.

Although the government will stay with its current crime-fighting strategies, it also will intensify its overall efforts, including improved collaboration with the public to share information, according to Phillips.

The crime is primarily related to gang warfare and drug-related activities, according to Phillips, who ordered police curfews for three communities in St. James.

The police presence "has been noticeably stepped up" since the new measures went into effect, according to Smith.

"The police are very noticeable on the streets, and their numbers will be further increased if necessary," he said.

Other anti-crime measures include a $20 million investment to upgrade the police radio phone system and the emergency hotline (similar to the 911 system in the U.S.)

Crime in Jamaica "has rarely been a problem affecting our visitors per se. The rate is less than 1/10th of 1% of our total tourists reporting or becoming victims of crime here," Smith said.

And Jamaica's visitor numbers are sizable. In fact, 2006 was a record year for the destination, which topped the 3 million mark in arrivals for the first time and generated approximately $1.9 billion in revenue, according to figures released by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

The northeastern U.S. accounted for more than 1 million of the total, making it the largest single market for Jamaica.

Reaction among tourism officials to the crime statistics was predictable. John Lynch, executive vice president of sales worldwide for Unique Vacations International, said that "everyone should be concerned with a crime wave in Jamaica. It affects us all, no matter where on the island it is happening."

Paul Pennicook, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Air Jamaica, agreed.

"Speaking as a Jamaican, I can tell you that nobody wants this," he said. "Our government has outlined enhanced measures to get on top of these problems. This is a priority issue involving problems associated with inner-city gang wars and drug activities."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].


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