A conservative estimate suggests that since the start of 2022 more than 60 people have been murdered across Jamaica. At that rate, the disheartening murder toll of 1,463 in 2021 could be equalled, if not exceeded, by the end of the year.
In areas such as the Central Kingston Police Division and Westmoreland, violent crime has been especially rampant — driven by such factors as gang warfare and lotto scamming. That's the reason Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government have now established zones of special operations (ZOSOs) in Central Kingston and similarly socio-economically depressed communities of Russia, Dalling Street and Dexter Street in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
In announcing the latest ZOSO for communities in Savanna La Mar on Sunday, Mr Holness made it clear that, as has been the case with other such initiatives since 2017, the aim will be to displace criminals and disrupt terror using the security forces; and improve living conditions using social intervention.
Obviously, it would be ideal to extend the social intervention and community-building approach — similar to the design under ZOSO — to all socio-economically depressed communities. That's an approach for which this newspaper has argued. However, the cash-strapped Government clearly believes it is unable to do so because of inadequate resources.
That's the reason — as we understand it — ZOSOs are limited to small geographic areas.
ZOSOs preceded the sequence of limited states of emergency (SOE) used by the Government under the Emergency Powers Act as a crime-fighting measure since 2018.
Readers will recall that, last November, Opposition People's National Party (PNP) senators blocked extension of an initial 14-day period for the last such limited SOE.
The Opposition, which had previously given parliamentary support to the SOE — despite offering strong criticism — says it blocked the November SOEs because it believes the use of emergency measures to fight crime is unconstitutional and liable to endanger human rights. The Opposition also said it is unnecessary since the army can be used to assist the police without the Government having to rely on the Emergency Powers Act.
Mr Holness and his Government have consistently argued that giving the security forces special emergency powers provides much-needed means to suppress and cauterise crime in the short term, while allowing breathing space for longer-term measures. That theme was repeated by Mr Holness on Sunday.
The backdrop is the ever-growing public plea for practical, workable, sustainable action against criminals.
We hear the cry from presiding bishop of Christian Holiness Church Dr Alvin Bailey: “…What is the plan to apprehend the ever-growing number of criminals who have taken over our country? Have those in authority run out of ideas to bring back peace to this nation?”
Dr Bailey says he wants to see the back of National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang. However, this newspaper believes crime in Jamaica goes further and deeper than any single minister or Government.
That's the reason we have consistently called for a comprehensive, bipartisan approach which should embrace all sectors and every community in the bid to bring criminals to heel once and for all.
We say to Government, political Opposition, community leaders, Church, business, trade unions, civil society, et al, it is past time to get going.