SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland - Amid mounting pressure for an adjustment to make other crime-riddled Westmoreland communities become part of the zone of special operations (ZOSOs) declared in south Savanna-la-Mar on Sunday, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang says consideration is now being given to extend the measure to the tough Gully Bank area in the parish capital.
He, however, explained that adequate resources are not immediately available to spread the ZOSO across the parish, arguing that a state of public emergency (SOE) would be more suited.
The ZOSO was declared in Savanna-la-Mar to cover the war-torn communities of Russia, Dalling Street and Dexter Street.
“We can maybe extend it to the hospital, which I want to do. I am getting some information on the hospital because it is a little sore spot. But you can't come up to Petersfield with it, Whithorn and other communities. The parish needs a state of emergency,” Dr Chang told the Jamaica Observer West on Wednesday.
While welcoming the ZOSO in sections of downtown Savanna-la-Mar, Bishop Oneil Russell, head of the Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity Church, is, however, advocating for the urgent establishment of a similar intervention at Gully Bank, situated near the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital — the entrance of which he claimed a female patient has been robbed since the ZOSO was declared.
“A young lady was robbed at the hospital gate. She was robbed, she and her daughter and when her son came to ask the person to return his mother's possession, he was beaten. So something significant needs to be put out at that hospital gate,” the outspoken clergyman advocated.
“If I am sick now I will never go there because our lives are still in danger. I am saying they need to put measures in place, put the ZOSO over there, they need it too by Gully Bank.”
Another man of the cloth, Canon Hartley Perrin, who is also the custos of Westmoreland, also expressed that while the ZOSO is welcomed in Savanna-la-Mar, there are other communities that are yearning for a similar measure.
“I would have loved to see that either the said zone is able to move to some other parts of the parish or there are other zones in other parts because there are other parts that are worrying as well,” contended Perrin.
“But we certainly embrace and appreciate the zone and I have seen a marked difference even in my part where I live which is outside the zone, the noise nuisance is much lessened. So it seems as if the traffic on the road is less in the nights, so it (ZOSO) has begun to have a positive impact.”
For his part, the president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, Moses Chybar, who was thankful that the Government responded with the ZOSO in sections of Savanna-la-Mar, also cited that Gully Bank and other communities are in need of a similar enhanced security measure. But he added that a SOE would even be more satisfactory.
“Now that we have the zone of special operations we would like to see it extended to cover some other areas also because Dalling Street, Russia and all those places are currently the areas that the zones are designated, but they are not the only ones affected by crime and violence. You have places in Grange Hill, places like Gully Bank, different places. So quite a few other areas are there where things are also happening. Overall, it's a start and we are expecting that it will be extended to cover some other areas,” Chybar argued.
“We would have preferred to start with a SOE but we know that that is not on the cards at the moment.”
Meanwhile, the security minister explained that “a ZOSO is like a development programme for the entire community which does not only require substantial funding but personnel on the ground.”
He further noted that if spread too thin, “people will lose the benefit of the zone”.
“People get a lot of optimism in the area that the zone is and we need to keep that optimism and build on it. And [as] we get more money we extend it and do some things. But you have to be careful how far you go. If you go too big an area is too difficult because you cannot put the level of policing that you want in the whole area,” the security minister argued.
“There are two challenges, one is the financial capacity of the country as well as the other is the human resource capacity.”
A ZOSO was declared in Westmoreland after the parish ended last year with a 60 percentage increase in murders, the highest across the 19 police divisions. Last year the Westmoreland police tallied some 128 murders— 48 more than the 80 recorded the previous year.
The killing spree in the western parish carried over into this year with some five murders, including two double murders within the first four days of the new year.