SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — There were mixed reactions in Savanna-la-Mar on Sunday following the announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that a crime-plagued section of the town had been declared a zone of special operations (ZOSO).
In the communities of Russia, Dalling Street and Dexter Street, the epicentre of the ZOSO, some residents welcomed the measure while others declared it a waste of time.
“The place will be a bit calmer,” declared Nadine Jones Abbott, whose two brothers, Dervin Jones, 43, and Sheldon Jones, 41, were murdered in the parish on January 4.
At that time, Jones Abbott had called for the return of a state of emergency in the parish, and minutes after the announcement by the prime minister, she indicated that this was a step in the right direction. But Jones Abbott wants more to tackle the crime that has plagued the parish which has recorded at least two double murders since the start of this year.
“I think it should be right across Westmoreland, where things would be more calm and safe, because right now it is very hard for us. If you go on this street, you are afraid to let certain hours catch you on the road,” said Jones Abbott.
President of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce Moses Chybar also welcomed the decision to declare the area a ZOSO, which he said will assist in the reduction of crime and violence.
Chybar told the Jamaica Observer that while the social intervention aspect of the programme will take time and more investment, it is something that must be done if the recovery is to be long-lasting.
“We would really like to have discussions with whoever it is that will be assigned to us down here to implement the social intervention measures, so that we here on the ground can assist with a more collaborative approach to ensure that the whole project is much better this time around,” said Chybar, who noted that the chamber is happy for the ZOSO.
Another resident, Marcia Blake, who has been living between Dalling Street and Ricketts Street in Savanna-la-Mar for more than 60 years, said the current situation in the town is the worst she has seen.
“Mi a JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] supporter, and mi no shame fi tell you, but from mi a grow, a first the labour party ever win in a Westmoreland Central, but a di worst mi ever see Savanna-la-Mar in terms of the violence and the condition of the place,” shared Blake, who also appeared to welcome the ZOSO.
Westmoreland Central is represented by George Wright, who won on a JLP ticket but has since resigned from the party and now sits in Parliament as an independent MP.
In other sections of the parish more residents welcomed the ZOSO, but at a shop on Ricketts Street some people said the measure “a waste people time, energy and taxpayers' money”.
These residents declared that while the security forces must start somewhere to tackle the rampant lawlessness in the parish, they were not impressed with the ZOSO.
They told the Observer that for some time they have been calling for a security post to be established at the old Westmoreland Municipal Corporation's Roads and Works Department, which has become a dumping site.
The property is located adjacent to the Westmoreland Fire Department and in an area where several shootings have taken place over the years.
One man was killed in that area in November 2021 and last Thursday a child was shot in almost the same place.
“We pay tax every month just like everyone else…so why can't we get the little security post that we have been asking for?” questioned one female resident.
But Senior Superintendent Robert Gordon, head of the Westmoreland Police Division, told the Observer that while there is a need for the relevant agencies to have the property cleaned, a process must be followed to establish a police post there as the property does not belong to the security forces.
Gordon argued that with the enhanced security measures which will come with the ZOSO there is no need for a post in the area. He said this could, however, be looked at if the need should arise in the future.
According to Gordon, the communities which have been included in the ZOSO are at a critical juncture.
“I just want to say to the good community members of these communities — Russia, Seaton Crescent, Dalling Street and Dexter Street — give the law enforcement officers, the police and the Jamaica Defence Force members all the necessary support so that we can rid their communities of those who are hell-bent on creating terror in their lives.
“Those criminals are not there to protect them; they are only there to create fear and control. We [members of the security forces] are the ones who are lawfully established to provide the protection for you. We need to know who the persons are and where the guns are,” declared Gordon as he underscored that there are illegal guns in the community and the police need the assistance of the residents to find them.
Gordon noted that apart from safety and security, residents can expect to benefit from the social aspects of the enhanced security measures. Among them are road improvements, the removal of zinc fences, and assistance to obtain critical documents.