- Associated Press - Monday, November 15, 2010

KINGSTON, Jamaica | Joan McCarthy’s voice rises in anger as she describes a police and military raid: Officers searching for a fugitive gang boss grabbed her nephew and son-in-law and hustled them upstairs.

Once they disappeared from view, there was a crackle of gunfire, she says, and moments later, police dragged her son-in-law’s body down the stairs, wrapped loosely in a sheet taken from her bed. Her nephew’s bloody body was carried down next, she and other slum dwellers allege.

Not a trace of either man has turned up in morgues or lockups since the May raid, they say.

“We had some bad men here, but these police are more cold-blooded than the illegal gunmen. Too cold-blooded!” the 63-year-old Ms. McCarthy said with a voice raw with emotion inside her bullet-scarred apartment in Tivoli Gardens, the former stronghold of alleged drug baron Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

Mr. Coke was captured and sent off to face charges in the United States after days of street battles that killed 73 civilians and three security officers. The government anti-gang crackdown that followed is the toughest in the island’s history. Soldiers with M-16s and rotating machine guns patrol the streets. Major crimes, especially murders, are trending downward.

But efforts to pacify the slums - a source of the violence that has damaged Jamaica’s reputation and economy - are being undermined by anger. Investigations into 37 alleged police killings during the raids are stalled, investigators say, and government promises of social programs to soften the blow of the heavy-handed policies have not been met so far.

Those who live in the slums known as “garrisons” remain deeply distrustful of the police and authorities, and critics worry that the recent downward trend in crime will be fleeting.

“Not much has changed in the daily lives of the average citizen of Tivoli, as the seeds of the original problem are still there,” said David Silvera of the rights group Jamaicans for Justice. “The criminal elements are merely [lying] low and regrouping.”

Even Jamaicans in normally quiet rural hamlets complain of heavy-handed tactics. On Nov. 9, scores of people in a farming town in St. James Parish mounted roadblocks and marched with signs reading, “No more police” because masked officers reportedly had unjustifiably killed two young men.

Mr. Coke was a powerful figure in Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s own parliamentary district, and the premier resisted U.S. requests to extradite him for nine months. Finally, growing domestic political pressure threatened Mr. Golding’s career, and he ordered police and troops into action. Mr. Coke faces U.S. drug and gun-running charges in New York.

Police statistics show that since the sustained assault on gangs that began with Mr. Coke’s capture, the number of murders committed in a single month has dipped below 80 for the first time in eight years, with 77 recorded across the island in September. The overall murder toll of 1,065 through the first nine months of the year was down by 135 from last year. There also have been fewer reported shootings, rapes and robberies.

“Operations to stop criminal gangs have been every day, literally. We’ve used standard police procedures, but our enforcement has been very energetic and has not let up,” said Assistant Police Commissioner Les Green.

Commissioner Green said authorities must focus on taking down gangsters who battled brazenly and violently for control of the drug and extortion trade in the garrisons, feeding one of the world’s highest murder rates. The island of 2.8 million people had about 1,660 homicides in 2009.

Many residents are relieved by the drop in crime.

“It is early days yet, but we are encouraged by the trends and the commitment being displayed by the government,” said Joseph Matalon, head of the island’s most influential business group, the Private Sector Organization.

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