When the PM announced the launching of the first zone of special operations last week, my own interests were to see how the initiative would develop and whether it made any major difference to crime in the area covered. (Personally, I thought that the PM stating that for him success would be no murders was wild, and more likely to end up in a ‘failure’ on those terms and then the inevitable efforts to show that in fact there were ‘successes’, if other metrics were considered. But, more on that in the future.) I did not anticipate commenting soon or often, thinking that the initiative needed time to go through its phases.
But, I was nevertheless a bit uneasy from the start because words of reassurance about preparedness uttered days before the launch were within hours shown to be less than convincing, with the problems caused by requests for official IDs in a country where many people do not have such things, and the need to consider how to deal with that. Did someone not really understand the Jamaica in which they operated?
Now, depending on how deep-seated you think problems are, you would want to see different amounts of preparation. I’m one of those who believes that some serious problems exist within the JCF and any efforts to include them in activities run the risk of falling apart because the organization is at least dysfunctional and inefficient, and clearly a place where corruption has taken hold. So, without ‘cleaning house’ first, who knows what may happen?
My suspicions were heightened when I read the recent Administrative Review of the Tivoli Operations, where many felt the JCF attempt to exonerate its officers and also denigrate the Commission of Enquiry pointed to a disturbing level of self-protection. The fact that INDECOM has added its voice to the government’s in calling for the withdrawal of the report tells us all we need to know: “The JCF has an unfortunate practice of denying and disputing reports that identify their failings and encourage them to improve,” Commissioner Williams is reported as stating.
What seems to have unfolded yesterday, demonstrated that in many senses the cart had been put before the horse, and the horse may still be harnessed in the stable.
There was a data snafu concerning the number of murders in the ‘Mount Salem and environs’ ZOSO, which the PM had said days before had ‘recommended itself‘. The actual numbers were reportedly much lower. So, how valid was the ‘recommendation’? So, how much trust could one put in a selection process founded on faulty statistics? Pending a full statement of what went wrong with the data and how the error will be avoided in the future, one has to shake one’s head that the processes involved seem to lack some basic procedures for checking and verification.
The data snafu shows that JCF did not move with enough speed to anticipate the role that they would need to play, not least of being in the public eye in helping determine where ZOSOs would be, and being fully accountable and ready for the scrutiny of decisions that should be the norm, but is often missing in many of its actions. Amongst the things that JCF had not done was fast-forward improved uses in IT and data collection, rather than cementing the image in many people’s minds that it is stuck in the days of hand-written ledgers and the limitations some of its basic practices put on being able to analyze information quickly. In that sense, JCF has been behind the analytical curve for too long. JCF has also been slow to embrace various other forms of faster communications.
Security forces’ spokespersons told us they were ready for ZOSO, wherever it was rolled out, but, this seems to have been at best wishful thinking, or at worst some sort of bluster.
But is the ZOSO operation one where people are using colanders to fetch water and with hands tied? What was behind the low turnout of officers in Mount Salem yesterday, when some 80 out of 140 officers did not report for duty? Is that a matter of morale, poor coordination, or some other form of mess-up?
One wonders if sabotage is going on. From the fact that information seems to be leaking from the Security Council, as implied by a media house being forewarned of the first ZOSO declaration, to questions posed about operations by the opposition spokemans, to the data snafu. If that is the case, then these are signs of absence of trust at many levels.
The authorities were quick to set up social media platforms to inform the public, after the ZOSO was declared, but they seem slow in staying ahead of what seems like some basic and obvious questions. The appetite for fast news only gets greater with the creation of things like Twitter handles and Facebook pages. So, AFTER media reported erroneously that ZOSO was over, the official tweet came:
But, was it beyond the wit of someone to forewarn the media, even five minutes before the operation was due to start, without compromising security operations?
It adds to the sense some expressed that things were amateurish and shambolic.
This flow of information issue is not easy but it needs to be addressed, and also goes to the manner of real inter-agency communication.
Former JCF Commissioner, Owen Ellington, had his views on crime fighting published in Jamaica Observer this past Sunday. Some cynics would wonder about the timing, on the back of ZOSO. Former Commissioner Ellington, who resigned his office suddenly, and with little if any explanation why, was saying basically that the move to not focus on engaging criminals more has meant that crime fighting has been, and will be, less successful. His views add to a body of opinions that is less than supportive of the current crime fighting plans. Be that as it may.
Politics and pose: The PM was quick to get his photo-op in Mount Salem.
Many non-politicians will see this as nothing more than PR. If it weren’t then, he could have chosen to go to another area where people appear to be under the threat of violent crime, and could be doing that on a continuous basis. Would that not raise people’s expectations of ZOSOs in the future? Maybe, but then again, he had campaigned on a statement that his party was the one to vote for if one wanted to see a reduction in violent crime. But, that was electioneering, wasn’t it? 🙂
For the moment, I am not going to do more than note that the missteps feed the political fire. On that, I will just flag a few things, which some will see as mischief-making or part of what the Oppositon should be doing:
- PNP creating its own ZOSO hotline…and the inevitable confusions that will cause.
- PNP seeking clarification of the selection criteria and processes: did Mount Salem really have the right profile?
- Cabinet Minister accusing the Opposition of seeking to derail ZOSO.
That’s enough for now!