KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Violent rivalries among Jamaica's lottery scam rings have helped drive the Caribbean island's homicide rate to the highest level in five years, according to police.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force said the country had at least 1,192 slayings in 2015, a roughly 20 percent increase from the previous year. There were 1,005 killings in 2014, the lowest annual total since 2003 in this country that has long struggled with violent crime.
Jamaica had about 45 slayings per 100,000 people in 2015, keeping it ranked among the most violent countries in the world. In recent years, the U.N. listed the island as having the world's sixth worst homicide rate. The World Bank ranked Jamaica in the top five in 2013.
By comparison, Chicago, which has roughly the same population as Jamaica at 2.7 million, had 468 killings in 2015.
Last year's total is a long way from National Security Minister Peter Bunting's goal of reducing the annual homicide numbers to 320 killings by 2017. He first stated this goal shortly after starting as national security minister in early 2012.
Bunting, who had called the reduction in 2014 a breakthrough in the fight against crime, said officials "will not be deterred or daunted by this setback."
Authorities attribute the rise in killings to clashes among lottery scam rings fighting over money and "lead lists" containing identity information about targets living abroad, mostly in the United States. Fighting between gangs has long been blamed for the majority of Jamaica's homicides.
Herbert Gayle, an anthropologist of social violence at Jamaica's University of the West Indies, said Wednesday that authorities have not addressed the root cause of violence in Jamaica so it was only a matter of time before killings ticked upward.
While killings increased last year, other crimes such as rape, aggravated assault, robberies and larcenies decreased.
Associated Press writer David McFadden in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.