ZOSO #1: Clear, hold and build community

Henry J Lewis

Monday, September 11, 2017

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After an unusually long delay and a semi-hyping of the declaration — which should have never happened — by the Minster of Justice Delroy Chuck at a sensitisation session, the long-awaited Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations Special Security) and (Community Development Measures) Act of 2017 leaped into effect. The prime minister, on the advice of his security council, made the declaration at about 11:00 am Friday, September 1, 2017, which made it official to Jamaicans and the Diaspora that Mount Salem was the chosen one; bringing an end of talking about addressing the crime monster. It was now time for action. ZOSO had officially begun.

Selecting Mount Salem

There were many questions, however, as to why Mount Salem. The prime minister had been given some statistics as the criteria for selecting Mount Salem. The community recorded 54 murders since the start of the year and it is host to 12 gangs, they reported. The stats further showed that since 2004 there has been a steady increase in murders with 46 in 2004; 2015, 70; 2016, 85; and 2017, 54.

One resident within the ZOSO said, “It is not true we have 54 murders in Mount Salem since the start of the year; the prime minister got it wrong!” What she actually meant was that, “Dem give di prime minister di wrong statistics.” But it seems as though my 'community statistician' friend did not know that it doesn't matter whose statistics is used, because that was not the real reason for the selection of Mount Salem.

What then is the real reason?

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, like many Jamaicans, thought Clarendon would have been the first zone. Some said the crime-infested Rockfort would have been in contention, but the prime minister bowled a googly to the surprise of many, including the residents of Mount Salem. In cricket, a googly (or wrong 'un) is a type of deceptive delivery bowled by a right-arm leg spin bowler.

The real reason for selecting Mount Salem was all about psychology, it is linked to the ability of the security forces to succeed (whatever is the measure of success). The prime minister approached the first ZOSO like a researcher. No one enters a high-risk operation without carefully selecting the one community to be piloted. Let us be reminded that the ZOSO is really a crime-fighting experiment. No researcher will engage an important research for publication without running a pilot study. A pilot project or pilot experiment is a small-scale, preliminary study conducted in order to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, in an attempt to make certain predictions. Mount Salem is the secret pilot; it is the testing ground for the more challenging ZOSO to come. A successful 60-day operation in Mount Salem should build trust and confidence in community members, making them more open and welcoming of the security forces, knowing that the ability to do a professional job, while shutting down and apprehending hard core criminals, is possible.


While I support the ZOSO as one the Government's main tool in its crime-fighting toolkit to stem the monster of crime and reclaim communities across Jamaica, a number of questions need to be asked and answers provided by the commander-in-chief, Prime Minister Andrew Holiness.

• How much money was budgeted for the roll-out of the ZOSO from the preparation stage to the current operation in Mount Salem?

• How will success of the ZOSO in Mount Salem and other zones be measured? I am having a really hard time figuring out the measure of success. Is it the number of guns seized? The amount of wanted men arrested? The number of gangs dismantled? Or a lull in criminal activities? (But for how long?)

It is important that the country knows because there might be some misplaced expectations. Already the prime minister has reported that one woman said that for the first time she was able to sleep with her door and windows open? Does she have a false sense of security or is this a measure of success?

Additionally, can you tell the country why, up to Friday's declaration, the Social Intervention Committee chaired by Omar Sweeney had not received the terms of reference? Isn't this a bit late, Mr Prime Minister? According to Section 23:1 of the Act, The prime minister in council shall, within five working days of the declaration of a zone, establish a committee to be styled the Social Intervention Committee. I would think by now the chairman of the committee should have been fully apprised and equipped with terms of reference.

Social intervention

About two months ago Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western Mikael Phillips said that the Government should not wait until it declares an area a zone of special operations before it moves in to provide much-needed social intervention. While I see the wisdom in his requests, there was a good reason why this was not possible without the implementation of the ZOSO, because section 24:1 of the Act states clearly that, the Social Intervention Committee shall:

a) assess conditions within the ZOSO, including the state of the physical infrastructure, health, environment and land tenure, housing and settlement;

b) identify the threats to sustainable development of the communities within the zone;

c) develop a sustainable plan which will include addressing issues relating to health, the environment, social improvement, infrastructure development and economic development;

The focus, therefore, of the Social Intervention Committee should be to build community well-being in the ZOSO. Community well-being is the combination of social, spiritual, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfil their potential. There are three attributes that play a large role in well-being: connectedness, liveability, and equity.

Connectedness is fostered by a community's social networks that offer social support, enhance social trust, support members living harmoniously together, foster civic engagement, empower members to participate in community, and democracy

Liveability is supported by the infrastructure, including housing, transportation, education, parks and recreation, human services, public safety, access to culture and the arts.

And equity is supported by values of diversity, social justice and individual empowerment, where all members are treated with fairness; basic needs are met (adequate access to health services, decent housing, food, and personal security) and the equal opportunity to get and meet individual potential. One resident of Mount Salem puts it this way, “I like the plans for the social intervention programmes to rebuild the community. We really need to find a way to put purpose in the lives of our young people.”

Let's remind ourselves that human beings can be proactive and engaged or, alternatively, passive and alienated, largely as a function of the social conditions in which they develop and function. It is about time we take back Mount Salem and all other communities from criminals and allow them to flourish. In flourishing communities, people are able to satisfy their fundamental human needs because social structures and institutions function inclusively and sustainably. Community members live safely and in dignity with the freedom to speak out and ensure access to health care, education and other basic services. A flourishing community offers its members access to opportunities so that they can realise their potential to participate in social, economic, cultural, and spiritual life.

It is only when the Government makes the policy shift and focuses on building the well-being of its citizens (dismantling garrisons) that we will see a precipitous decline in the crime statistics. Can it be done? Yes, it can!

Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Observer or




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