Jamaica Constabulary Force Commissioner Owen Ellington

Police in Jamaica have reported a spike in murders in the first nine months of this year, a pattern they attribute to a rise in gang numbers and activity.

According to the figures released on September 23 by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), 860 homicides were recorded between January and September 23 this year, compared to 820 in the corresponding period in 2012, reported the Jamaica Observer

The most heavily affected parishes were Trelawny and St Mary -- reporting a 150 percent and 86 percent rise respectively -- while central and western Kingston, Clarendon and Portland also reported notable increases, reported the Jamaica Gleaner.  

The latest figures emerged after an apparent spate of 34 murders in one week, with RJR News reporting the JCF's figures at 856 killings up to September 23, compared to 822 on September 14.   

In a statement released on September 24, JCF Commissioner Owen Ellington attributed the recent spate of murders to escalating gang conflicts despite increased arrests and gun seizures by police.

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InSight Crime Analysis

Jamaica is the most violent island in the Caribbean, with a reported homicide rate of 41 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2012 report "Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean." Much of the violence on the island is perpetuated by warring gangs involved in drug trafficking, as well as street crime and property theft. 

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Jamaica was a key transit point for cocaine, both to the United States and to Great Britain. However, its importance has declined drastically, with the 2012 report highlighting how 11 percent of cocaine destined for the United States passed through the island in 2000, compared to two percent in 2005 and one percent in 2007.

Nevertheless, Jamaica not only remains a cocaine transit country, it is also a marijuana producer and the biggest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States, according to the US State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. An estimated 15,000 hectares is cultivated annually, most of which is either shipped directly to the United States and Europe, or exchanged for cocaine with transnational criminal groups in Central America.

Competition for these criminal revenues may go some way to explaining the high murder rate. Another reason is the ineffectiveness of law enforcement. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for murder is just five percent, while progress in combating narcotics, illicit trafficking and corruption is "hobbled by an underfunded, overburdened and sluggish criminal justice system with limited effectiveness in obtaining criminal convictions."