When Christopher Phillips, senior superintendent of police for South St Catherine, pulled up at the gates of Braeton Primary and Infant School in Portmore, St Catherine, yesterday morning, the leader of the police division for the area had to undergo security checks before being allowed entry into the institution.
That new procedure was put in place on Friday morning following the abduction and slashing of the throat of an eight-year-old girl from the institution on Thursday.
Phillips was pleased with the safety procedures now in place.
“When I came here this morning, I wasn’t able to enter easily and so I can see where they have access control. Whilst they might not have CCTV, and those things ... that could assist or enhance their security measures, I think there is adequate security in place,” Phillips told The Gleaner outside the premises of the school, given that the media were barred from entering the compound as the police were conducting an investigation.
With regard to security gaps in the school’s system which would have caused the abduction to take place on Thursday afternoon, he said the police will allow the investigation to determine whether or not there were gaps or lapse in security procedures.
“We’ll allow the investigation to reveal that,” he said.
After he entered, Phillips met with the principal, members of the board, members of the school, social workers and guidance counsellors of the school.
Phillips said that, on the day of the abduction of the girl, he was engaged in a safe school programme initiative dubbed ‘The Voice of the Youth Symposium’ which focused on safety and security issues in schools. As part of the discussions, they addressed the issue of missing persons and abductions.
He said although the police division has a good relationship with the schools, there might now be a need for the police to pay more attention to primary schools in the St Catherine South Division, and committed to expanding activities through their safe schools programme.
Touching more deeply on the topic of abductions in St Catherine, Phillips said although there was another recent abduction in the South St Catherine Division, he has not seen an general increase in abductions in the division.
“I wouldn’t say there is an increase, but from time to time, we do have situations. A few days ago, we had a situation in this area that led to a shooting in Hellshire. That also featured some kind of abduction that took place there,” Phillips said.
Phillips also noted the need for more police manpower in the security forces for St Catherine.
“I don’t know if we will ever reach the point that we can say that we have enough police. When you look on the complexities and multiplicity of issues that we have to deal with, there will always be a need for more police, but I think that with what we have, we have been doing tremendous work,” Phillips said.
“If you look on our crime figures, we have a reduction in most of our major crimes. It’s not where we want it to be, but there are still reductions and the team continues to work using intelligence and the data to inform our deployments and the type of operations that we do,” he said.
For the abduction of the eight-year-old on Thursday, the investigations span between the police divisions of St Catherine South and St Andrew Central where the girl was thrown from a vehicle with her throat slashed.
With the investigations ongoing in the two police divisions, Phillips said the full picture of what took place will be unfolded “pretty soon”.
Questioned about reports that it was two children, a boy and a girl, who were abducted from the school compound, he said: “We’re still probing to find out the truth because the investigators have not spoken to all the parties concerned as yet. We’re actually doing that now.”
He added: “As soon as we get those other parts of the puzzle, then we can give fulsome report on how things unfolded. I don’t want us to speculate and to take things out of context. As to how the child managed to leave the facility is a question that investigators are probing right now... . The last update I got on her, she basically is still alive and fighting. We are praying for her that she will make a full recovery.”
Among the many Jamaicans voicing their concerns about the abduction, especially on social media, was Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison.
Speaking with The Gleaner, Gordon Harrison called for persons who are aware of why the child was abducted and attacked, to share the information with the police.
“There are so many questions that are still left to be answered at this stage, and I certainly join in other media/forum, the throng of Jamaicans who are very disturbed and very concerned about what happened. How did the child leave the compound? Who did this? What’s the reason for doing it? And really just how heartless this is,” Gordon Harrison said.
“I can’t imagine what the family is going through and, at this stage, I join with ensuring that everything that can be done by the medical team is done. I know that she is in excellent hands, but I just pray that she pulls through this and that we can start making some sense of all of this. It’s early days yet, but I just want to ask anyone who knows anything to cooperate with the authorities, cooperate with the police so that we can make some sense of this very very tragic set of circumstances.”