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The Andrew Holness led administration was under extreme pressure after over 1300 murders were recorded in 2016, the highest for the last five years. Hence, a crime plan was initiated which focused on lowering criminality and using social intervention to curtail the issue, the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO). The Special Zone of Operations Act, passed in 2017, empowers the prime minister to declare any geographically defined area within a single continuous boundary in Jamaica, ‘where there is reasonable ground to believe that rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder as well as the threat of the rule of law and public order is evident’. The act became necessary after growing concerns of the escalating murder rate in Montego Bay, St. James. The main function serves to establish and restore public order, citizen security, and public safety. The zone can only be established by the prime minister after the police commissioner and the chief of defense staff submit their request in writing. Whilst the implementation and effectiveness of the zone has gone through the rounds of criticism, it has come out more refined as Jamaicans accept that it is a plan geared towards national security and willing to make it work. According to subsection 3, the objectives of this act is to
The 7 objective pillars which the act is serves to exemplify its main function of establishing and restoring public order, citizen security and public safety. The government’s response to Jamaica’s crime problem is the zone of special operations act. The request to declare a zone of special operation is presumably, on intelligence. When a zone has been declared under the act, there are two main people responsible for the operations, a member of the Jamaica Defense Force as well as the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Nominations for this member are done by the chief of Defense Staff and Commissioner of Police respectively. Together, the nominated members are known as the joint command who are specially trained in human rights, the use of force and community development initiatives. Operations in the zone should last for sixty days, it may be extended for a period not surpassing sixty days after the National Security Council and the joint command have mutually agreed upon such.
The national security council established an accountability and reporting system in which the joint command must adhere to by submitting a written report on operations in the zone every ten days. The prime minister works closely and is directly related to the zone thus, can suspend operations or change the joint command if he sees it fit. According to the act, subsection 12 (1) the joint committee may in any zone may establish a cordon round or within the zone or impose a curfew in the zone between such hours as may be specified requiring persons within that zone to remain within their premises during the hours so specified unless otherwise authorized by a member of the joint force. This becomes necessary for the operation as they will be better able to monitor the activities of the zone. The curfew hours can also initiate a police-citizen relationship, an important mechanism in gaining intelligence on criminals. When operations are being carried out in the zone, the joint command cannot apprehend or detain unless the person in charge of the operations is satisfied that there is reasonable ground for the arrest or detention of the person. Where any person is arrested or detained under this act, that person shall be made aware as soon as possible the reason for his arrest and the justice of the peace can also determine whether there are enough grounds for the arrest. This exemplifies the level of respect the justice of the peace commands and the impact he has in the operations.
It is after the satisfaction of the justice of the peace can a person be remanded in custody and taken before a parish court judge. Subsection 16 (5) states, ‘where a justice of the peace is not satisfied that the arrest or detention of any person is reasonably required in the interest of justice, he shall order that the person is released forthwith’. The prime minister has taken steps to ensure each human in the operations is fully protected from an abuse of power by the joint committee by employing the use of the justice of the peace and allowing the use of body-worn cameras if resources permit. The body-worn cameras is another mechanism to ensure lawful behavior by the security forces in the zone and to record unscrupulous activities to gather evidence against persons. As per the objectives of the act, within five working days of the declaration of a zone, a social intervention committee should be established. Its main aim is to according to subsection 24 (1), ‘assess conditions within the zone including the state of the physical infrastructure health, environment, land tenure, housing, and settlement. ’ The prime minister recognizes that these are zones are suffering from social decay, hence the high level of criminal activities. It is argued that if there is an improvement in the social structure and welfare of these communities then will be there some level of social bond and belonging which demotivates criminal activities.
Hirschi (1969) social control theory supports the claim by arguing that criminal activity occurs when an individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This attachment depends on the strength of social bonds that hold people to society. According to Hirschi, there are four social bonds that bind us together – Attachment; Commitment; Involvement and Belief. The social intervention comprises of government agencies, Registrar Department, Jamaica Social Investment Fund among others tries to improve the social life of community members. Many of these members do not have basic social amenities hence why most are under the control of donman-ship who seeks to provide everything for them, albeit illegally. The prime minister in his report to parliament revealed that approximately 1, 400 services were delivered, and in most instances, beneficiaries accessed multiple services. The prime minister stated that “The services delivered included the provision of civil documentation (258 persons applied for birth certificates, 72 persons applied for Tax Registration Numbers, and 41 persons applied for the National Insurance Scheme) and the provision of health services (237 persons were examined by general practitioners; 470 persons received dental services, which included general examinations, cleaning, and extractions; and 156 persons received optical services, such as eye screening).
In addition, residents benefited from the provision of Training Services (43 persons were registered for HEART/NTA, two persons received job placements, 17 persons registered for training courses; 11 persons registered for HOPE apprenticeship programmes, and 13 persons received call center placement). Social services, inclusive of welfare and counseling, were also provided. Some 55 persons registered for benefits from the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and 46 persons registered for food handlers’ permits. ” Regardless of the successes of ZOSO, there remains skepticism especially with the displacement of criminals rather than apprehending them. it has been argued by Grant that the ZOSO is a public relation stunt. He argued that although ZOSO has achieved its objective of calming the fears of the populace, it cannot halt crime as it does not deal with the root causes. The criminals are scattered and can rampant in other areas outside of the zone. In response to this statement, Major Basil Jarrett said, ‘we knew, we anticipated and, to some extent, we wanted these criminals to displace from the communities. When they are on the move, it’s much easier for us to track their movement, it’s much easier for us to figure out where they are likely to be holed up. We know that the guns are there, and we know that not all of the guns would have neem able to move out in a reasonable time’. It is not understandable why the government is taking such a defensive approach in the operations of the zone, by sitting and waiting for the criminals to act. These criminals can flee to other communities and wreak havoc, he also mentioned that they are being tracked but Jamaica lacks the sophisticated technology to track individual persons that they lack information about. The joint committee should always be a step ahead of the criminals at all time keeping them guessing about their moves. I see two practical recommendations to apprehend criminals.
Firstly, a surprise visit to the area and immediately declaring a zone after it is set up. The criminals would then be trapped inside and thus the security forces can arrest accordingly. One cannot just let the criminals be displaced by leaving their weapons behind alone, the fact that the weapons are being left behind indicates that they have numerous weapons or other means of attaining one. If criminals are trapped inside the zones, they must surrender themselves, there is no escaping. In the major’s statement, he also said, ‘I think for most persons, they expect to get up in the morning and hear that police and soldiers are trading gunshots with criminals. The defensive mindset is baffling, the first objective, in my opinion, should be, ‘eradicate all criminal elements within a zone. ’ However, the attacking nature of the act has been subdued by the mantra of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). There have been discussions surrounding the demotivation effect that INDECOM has on law enforcement personnel. Williams (2015) argued that if the police are doing their jobs correctly, then they do not need to fear INDECOM. Thompson (2017) argued ‘the argument is a bit disingenuous as a law-abiding police officer carrying out his or her job can run into a situation in which a citizen is killed either by accident — or deliberately based on a reasoned apprehension of fear. This officer, when called by INDECOM for an interview, must lawyer-up at his or her expense. ’
I fully agree because I have been in the ZOSO setup in Montego Bay and asked why is it that I never heard of police killing criminals in zones in which they replied they would have to answer to INDECOM which in most cases, they have to miss work and incur high lawyer fees for doing their jobs, so it does not make sense to them. Jamaica is a developing country, as such, lack the required resources to carry out the operations ass efficiently. In subsection 19 (10), it encourages members of the joint force to wear body cameras but the act itself also highlights that there might not be enough using the term ‘if available’. This exemplifies a growing problem in Jamaica, the fight against crime is often stagnated by a lack of resources. Body-worn cameras are apart of new age technological mechanisms that Jamaica crime fighting lacks. The act tries to incorporate it but suffers from resources. Gangs, made up of criminals, have been around for decades and as the years goes by, the more sophisticated they become. These gangs can survive for years, they will simply ‘wait out the state’.
The Jamaica Observer (2018) argued that the state ‘must set up closed circuit television systems or spy balloons in areas under the ZOSO’. Thus, will help to monitor the zone for unscrupulous activities even when there is a lack of police attention. In this day and age, the security forces cannot just rely on intelligence from community members because of the ‘informa fi dead’ culture and these communities’ members are families of the criminals, there is a lack of innovative technical expertise and resources to achieve this and this is being reflected in the zones. Jamaica’s police force is estimated to be just over 11000 members and the army, 3000. This shows also the lack of human resources in the operations. The operation lasts for 60 days in which an appropriate number of police and military personnel has to remain in a zone while other police divisions are understaffed which are facing high criminal activities. In July 2017, Minister Montaque stated that the force is short about 3000 police officers. There is an impediment in other divisions if there is a shortage with an appropriate number of police members in a specific zone for 60 days or more if it requires an extension. The force poor turnover of 500 cops annually is simply not enough.
The Zones of Special Operations is a response to Jamaica’s crime problem. Reading through the literature, there are many individuals applauding the act, the government, the private sector, prominent names etc. The members of the affected community of Mount Salem are seeing the positive benefits of the act. It has been so successful that it has been implemented in Denham Town, St. Andrew as well, with the implemented communities recording extremely low levels of criminality. Community members are praying that the operations do not end as they have never felt so safe and secure in the communities before, an attribute to its success. However, the big test lies if criminality will return to these communities after the operations have ended.
Therefore, I advocate for a more attacking approach to criminality in the zones, get rid of all the criminals rather than displacing them. However, although the act has its criticisms of displacement of criminals and lack of resources, it is a building block in fixing Jamaica’s crime problem. I hope in subsequent amendments to the act, the government will embrace a more attacking nature to the act, but for now, in the zones, it is doing as promised and that is to establish and restore public order, citizen security, and public safety.
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