Columns

Day 30 of ZOSO Mount Salem — a winner or loser?

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, October 06, 2017

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The frisson that may have run through decent citizens of Mt Salem when they won the dubious accolade of most crime-ridden place in this world capital of crime must have been chilling. First zone of special operations (ZOSO) is a dread title, but if vilifying 3,500 citizens will cramp our criminals then sacrifice for the nation.

But what is the reality now that we are halfway into “clear, hold, build”? What was this massive mobilisation of forces and public relations? Are we safer; more crime-free? What about Mt Salem at Day 30? On Day 60, will they happily wave goodbye to the forces or welcome back exiled gunmen relatives?

Does Andrew Holness, chairman of the National Security Council, have a half-term report? Our views on the futility of ZOSO, as executed, stands; but Andrew has nothing to be ashamed of as he joins many in the dunce corner. He tried, but ZOSO is a seven-day wonder drawn out over 60 days. His comment about us sleeping with doors open is the dream of every Jamaican, but we live with record crime every year. I was hopeful for him, but youth, like age, has flaws. Mt Salem is halfway to ZOSO working its magic, yet October starts with murders set to hit new heights and Mt Salem seems a temporary oasis.

ZOSO is flawed. Chairman Holness would have to be 60; worked abroad, with security experience, to see it; but he is doing the best he knows. Given the hype, we expected weekly stats on most-wanted, guns, murders. Sir, is Mt Salem winning? Is the rest of the nation? Will ZOSO move to 12 new areas?

On September 1, 2017 security forces descended on 3,500 citizens in a most dense deployment — say, one to seven civilians. ZOSO was to yield most-wanted and high-powered weapons. Now the silence is pregnant. From day one it was clear to cognoscenti that ZOSO misfired. There is nothing wrong with clear, hold, build, but nuance is crucial. What urgency to catch gunmen in their beds? All was bloodless, sanitised, based on cordons. So what's the takeaway? Who colted ZOSO so most-wanted men could bolt?

Mt Salem is quiet, police well behaved, but outside crime moved at warp speed as gunmen cleared by ZOSO set up elsewhere. Chairman, they got your message, “When we arrive, clear out!” Mt Salem is a good area with top regional bodies (hospital, Airbnb, Adventist HQ, HEART Trust); good energy and bad. Was Holness under special pressure to parade police conduct but not interdict gunmen? Photo ops show meek and mild police, yet no mug shots of crooks in Mt Salem. Human rights courses were fine, but what priority to pre-dawn swoops to catch gunmen? The focus on body cameras is risible as it is a defensive device to spy on the wearer. Why no direct crime-fighting technology? Who needed assuring that “Jamaica and Jamaicans and our institutions have the capacity to pursue what is right without doing what is wrong.” For whose benefit did Andrew repeat non sequiturs such as “this is proof of a concept that we can fight crime and fight criminals without killing innocent Jamaicans”? Sir, where is your head at? Check the core business of ZOSO; where is the proof of concept that we can catch criminals?

With troop deployment equal to 10 per cent of Mt Salem residents, they could breach 50 suspect houses and make most-wanted arrests. So, was the plan to avoid conflict? Did special interests want to scare but not confront gunmen — just leave our town and return another day? So friends, convince me they were just inept, not corrupt; remember Occam's razor?

So, Chairman, what's next? New zone? You created a near syllogism “ZOSO vs the rest”. For, when Mt Salem is clear the rest of Jamaica catch hell, yet the converse can never be true. Sir, to curb crime in the short run we must catch gunmen and get the guns or root causes be damned; for in the long run we are all dead. Interdiction and education must be hand in hand until long-term therapies work and we check who is still alive. We would need 750 zones like Mt Salem to clear Jamaica one-go; can't be done!

What now? Declare ZOSO in a dozen statistically significant crime zones? Gunmen would put arms away and hide in plain sight; eat free food until the forces are fatigued, morale dips, or Cabinet runs out of cash, food, benefits; ZOSO would fall apart and so would the nation. But there is hope.

ZOSO can work in tandem with communities trained to self-secure as we will never have enough police. The wrinkle is our leaders are more afraid of security-savvy communities than killers they can suborn. I support a volunteer special constabulary (SC) imbued with police powers and kit after part-time training to complement the regular constabulary. As in London, the SC would attracts lawyer, tradesman, manager, secretary to serve set hours per week. Most will serve, as progressive people are already marked. What's to lose? We would save our own lives! By skill, education, maturity the SC corps master police training quickly and their man-hours may equal say 300 for every thousand regulars. Given this windfall of free talent Cabinet can pay police better. ZOSO will not capture most-wanted and their guns unless revamped and allied with community mobilisation.

Andrew staked his all on this and it bombed, but his security detail is in place, so weep for yourself, my friend. Sir, you still have time to buy new ideas, so “wheel and come again” and make history. One Jamaica! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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