Deputy Public Information Commissioner Tarik Sheppard (left) took an on-the-ground approach to the ominous advisory, spending February 6 to February 9 meeting with police officials and surveying the lay of the land for himself along with the Commissioner of the Jamaica Police Public Information Major General Antony Anderson.
Photo courtesy of NYPD
NYPD and Jamaican officials are defying the US State Department’s Level 3 travel advisory, which classified the Caribbean island as unsafe to visit.
In an alert on January 23, the US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs advised residents against visiting Jamaica, citing violent crime and ineffective police response times as reasons to stay away. The bureau even strongly encouraged those who still want to visit Jamaica to purchase traveler’s insurance.
“Local police often do not respond effectively to serious crime incidents. When arrests are made, cases are rarely prosecuted to a final conviction. Families of American citizens killed in accidents or homicides often wait a year or more for final death certificates to be issued by Jamaican authorities. The homicide rate reported by the Jamaican government has for several years been among the highest in the Western Hemisphere,” part of the advisory said.
The announcement came as a surprise to many officials, including the NYPD, who say they work closely with Jamaican police by sharing information.
Deputy Public Information Commissioner Tarik Sheppard heeded the ominous advice, traveling to Jamaica on February 6-9 to meet with police officials and survey the lay of the land for himself. Sheppard, along with Jamaican Major General Antony Anderson, spoke to amNewYork Metro via Zoom about his visit.
“We found it a bit surprising that all this is coming out now. Especially since [tourism] it’s such a critical part of our economic activity,” Anderson said. “It kind of came out of left field. So I thought it was important that as a police commissioner, we say directly to our visitors, be you part of the diaspora or wherever, this is a beautiful place to come, visit and stay. You are safe here.”
Sheppard said the NYPD faces similar issues when battling the perception versus reality of crime statistics in the Big Apple, as well as tourism, which is a big part of both economies.
“What was most surprising to me is that perception is an issue that we share. The problem is you have a very safe area for tourists, this is a very nice area for tourists, and yet this information can get out and be misinterpreted and put people in fear,” Sheppard said. “We deal with some of it in New York City as well. We need to share ideas about how to combat it and make sure people know the right kind of information so people can feel safe.”
Sheppard also criticized sects of individuals who are putting communities at risk.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, also made a public statement contradicting the State Department’s advice, stating that crime is the lowest it has been in 22 years. Anderson noted that major crime is down 11%, murders are down 8%, and rapes are down 15%.
The Jamaican police force is about one-third the size of the NYPD, with about 14,000 uniformed police officers, along with a small contingent of auxiliaries and civilian helpers, bringing the number to 17,000. Anderson says the gangs target their rivals, and although there are no gun factories on the island, there is widespread arms trafficking.
“We are also very engaged with the communities. We’re about a third the size of the NYPD, we’re a relatively large police force,” Anderson said. “I guarantee when you come here and visit, you’ll come back. I know when you come back, you will tell your friends to come back … if they come down here and there’s something [goes wrong] it’s a simple call for us and we’ll be there to support whatever is going on.”