Zones of Special Operations (#ZOSO): Some musings

Yesterday, Jamaica’s PM declared the first ZOSO, at a press conference, as the police district of Mount Salem, in Montego Bay, in the parish of St. James. That’s a brief geographical setting for people to get their teeth into.

I would be lying if I said I thought that many people know what to expect from the operations in this and other ZOSOs. Many issues have been raised about the creation of such areas, including whether the basic laws already on the books allowed the security forces to operate in ways that are now set out for ZOSOs.

The ZOSOs are covered by the long-winded The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, which was passed earlier this year in the Houses of Parliament, and ‘seeks to contain crime while safeguarding the human rights of residents and promoting community development through social intervention initiatives’ according to the Jamaica Information Service. the ZOSO is supposed to be in place for only 60 days. The law gives the PM power to declare an area a Zone of Special Operations in order to tackle increased crime and volatility in a community. This is in consultation with the National Security Council.

We can look forward to some degree of transparency in the operations. The National Security Council will convene to receive and consider the written report of the Joint Command that must be submitted every 10 days. The PM will update the nation by making a statement to Parliament within 14 days in accordance with the law.

The political rhetoric has focused on the notion of ‘clear, hold, and build’ and the last component is supposed to be critical, in setting up ‘social interventions’ that will somehow change the character of so-called ‘crime-ridden’ communities. Reports indicate that the Social Intervention Committee for Mount Salem will be set up within the next five days.

I would think that many Jamaicans are hopeful that a scourge of murders, an increasing number of which are being committed in St. James, will cease.

First indications are that some 25 people were detained by the security forces on day 1. What their fate will be we will have to wait and see.

The Mount Salem area is reported to have recorded 54 murders in 2017, so far, and people have noted that with its estimated population of about 4850 only that suggests over 1 murder per 100 people–an incredibly high number. The trend of murders in the small community has been rising, and it ‘hosts’ a dozen gangs; the PM said it ‘self-selected’ itself of that basis. Political sparring was quick to emerge in the selection of an area in St. James, given the recent increase in murders in the parish of Clarendon.

The rolling out of the ZOSO had its teething problems, including how well the security forces can handle the inevitable questions from residents about rights and freedom of movement. For instance, the area includes the massive Cornwall Regional Hospital, so how will curfews, etc. affect its daily operations? These issues can get delicate and involve misunderstanding easily, so let’s see how that goes.

The security forces have been quick to distance the ZOSOs from the last series of ‘special operations’ jointly undertaken in Tivoli Gardens in May 2010. So, one of the things to await is what lessons were learnt from that exercise.

Many security operations in Jamaica have tended to create what I term ‘whackamole’ situations, where crime is ‘tackled’ in one areas, only for it to move its centre to another area. How good the security forces will be in avoiding that will need time to assess.

Finally, one hopes that not only with the spate of killings decline rapidly, and stay down, but the finding of perpetrators needs to also increase significantly, if the local population and the nation are to believe that things are really changing in terms of criminal justice. For example, it’s all well and good to cite the number of murders in Mount Salem in recent years, but how many were ‘solved’ and where are the culprits?

More questions can be posed, but, let’s be patient.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)