Zones of special operations


Zones of special operations

Canute Thompson

Sunday, July 23, 2017

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There is no doubt that Jamaica faces a serious crime problem, but in my view the problem is a chronic rather than an acute one. A chronic problem requires interventions that deal with root causes, not just manifestations. The zones of special operation Act (ZOSO) is a response to an acute condition rather than an intervention that targets the underlying causes of a chronic state, and in that regard is short-sighted.

The new law is also an outdated approach to fighting crime because it is based on hard, rather than soft policing. Hard policing uses the army and contemplates cordons, arrests, bullets, and tanks. Soft policing is about building relationships and creating opportunities for learning and earning. Contrary to what the Government claims, the ZOSO Act is not about soft policing.

Crime problem in context

The number of murders that have taken place in Jamaica in 2017 represents an increase over 2016 — year-to-date of over 20 per cent — though in some places (like Hanover) the number of murders is running at an increase of over 100 per cent. A January 10, 2016 story carried in the Jamaica Observer, entitled 'Jamaica homicides jump 20 per cent, highest level in 5 years', notes that the number of murders in 2015 reversed the seeming progress of 2014, which had recorded the lowest number of murders in 10 years with 1,005 murders — the lowest since 2003. With 2016 outstripping 2015, and 2017 outdoing 2016 so far, the depth of the chronic crisis is self-evident.

The question is, what does the government do?

The Government's response is the ZOSO Act.

Under this law, the prime minister can declare an area a zone of special operation if the heads of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) request that he does so. The request would be based, presumably, on intelligence.

It is for the precise reason that a zone of special operation is declared in response to criminal activity that I regard it as short-sighted.

It is long established that crime is a social disease. The root causes of, or contributors to this disease include:

1) weak parental and family support systems and structures;

2) large number of underperforming schools (some 55 per cent of schools according to the National Education Inspectorate);

3) declining influence of the Church and organised groups such as cadets;

4) the overhang of relationships of patronage between some politicians and criminals;

5) corruption in the police force;

6) existence of large numbers of unattached youth (some 175,000);

7) proliferation of gangs (some 266 based on the police's last estimate);

8) the allurement of easy wealth due to distorted or undeveloped value systems resulting in part from (1) - (3) above

If it is accepted that crime in Jamaica is attributable to the foregoing factors then any intervention that does not deal frontally with these is, on its face, an inadequate and likely-to-fail intervention.

I acknowledge that there are a number of initiatives being undertaken by the Government to deal with aspects of the foregoing problems. Some of these initiatives include the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), Learn Earn, Give, and Save, among others. But my critique has been that these programmes lack central and strategic coordination, and their relationship to the ZOSO Act is at best tenuous, and at worst poorly defined.

A different approach

In my opinion the zones of special operation initiative should be a central coordinating entity for a host of interventions targeting well-known communities that have been sponsors or producers of violence. Expressed in sociological or public health terms, these are communities in which the disease of crime is most potently manifested. These communities are located in St James, Clarendon, Kingston and St Andrew, Westmoreland, and St Catherine.

Here are some of the key steps that I would propose in the implementation of the zones of special operation strategy:

1) The Implementation Committee gets a briefing from the Social Development Commission (SDC), Jamaica Social Investment Fund, CSJP, Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the police on the key demographics of these communities.

2) Working groups are set up in each targeted community to include reps from registered community-based organisations and the key support organisations and relationships are built with people on the ground.

3) A central operations area (COA) is established. This would be the first “clear, hold, and build” location. This area will have components similar to an army base that is involved in engineering and construction and include components such as a large block-making facility; various types of machinery used in construction; an open area for conversation, motivational talks, reflection, and worship; an area for play and exercise.

4) The SDC and CSJP, with the help of the JDF, would round up all unattached youth in the community and invite them, or require them, to register as apprentices or attachees at the COA. The first 12 weeks, or so, at the COA will be for skill- and discipline-building led by soldiers, social workers and others. During this period the JDF, with the help of other experts, would be doing surveys of construction work to be done in the community.

5) At the end of the 12 weeks of preparation, every youth and adult that was part of the period of special training would be deployed as members of (what Ronnie Thwaites calls) “construction gangs”. These gangs would be repairing schools, homes, roads, and other public facilities like health centres.

I submit that if we approached the zones of special operation strategy as outlined above, there is a greater likelihood that there would be a sustainable reduction in crime, unlike what is probable under the Band-Aid therapy that the ZOSO Act seems to represent.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or

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