It's not a mini Tivoli

Police, military promise transparency in special crime zones

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 14, 2017

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THE police and the military yesterday pledged to partner with the media to keep Jamaicans informed to ensure transparency in activities on ground in areas that are declared Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO), under the just-passed legislation.

At a media briefing yesterday at the Police Commissioner's Office, head of corporate communications for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, and civil military cooperation and media affairs officer for the Jamaica Defence Force, Major Basil Jarrett sought to assure the public that citizens' rights will not be trampled on and that these special operations will be conducted in a transparent and professional manner.

“We want to do things a little bit differently this time around; we realise the immense power of the media as an agent of social change [so] we want people to understand that this is not mini Tivoli. You're not going to see soldiers going into hostile communities the way we saw in 2010 and cleaning them up; this is not what the zones of special operation is all about, it's about creating lasting social change through tangible investments and interventions in the community,” Major Jarrett stated.

The reference to Tivoli Gardens is in relation to the 2010 security forces operation during which more than 70 people were shot and killed when police and soldiers went into the tough community in search of then strongman Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

According to Major Jarrett, the media has been a very important part of the process of managing the public's expectations and fears, as well as keeping the military and the police honest. “In addition to ensuring human rights is a major priority area for the security forces, we also want to ensure that the public sees exactly what we are doing in a very transparent and open manner, that's why we want to have this common understanding; if we do wrong we want to be called out on it [as] we are not looking for anyone to give us a free pass,” he said.

Major Jarrett further assured that the deficiencies of the Tivoli security operation, and others before it, would not be repeated. “I think that this is an important step in the right direction. It wasn't there in 2010 and that caused us a lot of headache. A lot of the gains that we made in Tivoli we lost because we didn't have a comprehensive communication strategy behind it. This is going to be different. The fact that we are even now considering taking reporters along with us into operational hotspots is an important change,” he said.

Superintendent Lindsay explained that once a zone is declared, a media communication centre will be set up with herself and Major Jarrett as the main point of contact. “One of the things that we really want to prevent is the false information… so we want to ensure that we are able to provide the correct information that you can get out to the public very quickly,” she stressed.

The plan is to create a ZOSO communication unit to facilitate interviews with point persons and experts in order to ensure that the media gleans official information to be fed back to the public. “Information will not be deemed official until it's confirmed by us,” she stated.

In addition to press briefings, media practitioners are to be accredited by the Jamaica Information Service to enter the zones, particularly during the clearing and holding phases.

She emphasised that the JCF's Corporate Communications Unit will still be in operation as regular police work and operations will continue outside of the ZOSO. Information will also be filtered directly by the authorities through official social media platforms, Lindsay said.

Major Jarrett pointed out also that the security forces will disseminate imagery and video footage to the various media companies from special teams who capture images that journalists may not be able to. “The idea here is to let the public see through a very transparent lens exactly what is happening in those areas (where) we won't be able to take the media along with us,” he said.

The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures Act) was passed in Parliament last week amid strong protest by the Opposition, which is of the view that citizens' rights will be abused.

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