Editorial | PM must get out front on Denham Town ZOSO
It is still very early to contemplate a verdict on the effectiveness of the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO), the government's initiative for fighting crime by sending the security forces into communities to displace criminals, to be followed by a heavy dose of social intervention and infrastructural development.
But Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who, in his role as head of the National Security Council (NSC), has the final call on which area is declared a ZOSO, needs urgently to fully explain his choice, the west Kingston community of Denham Town, lest it becomes mired in controversy and fails to gain the trust of residents, which is necessary for its success.
The declaration of the first of these zones six weeks ago in Mount Salem, St James, got off to a messy start. The premise on which this community of 3,500 residents was chosen was its high crime rate and gang activity. According to the police, there were a dozen operating in the community, and up to the end of August it had recorded 54 homicides.
Challenged on the data by residents, the police were forced to concede that they had got it very wrong. Seven homicides were actually recorded in the community in the first eight months of the year, and over the previous three years, there had been 20 murders rather than the 201 initially claimed by the constabulary, who had conflated the Mount Salem statistics with those of surrounding areas.
This blunder followed the claim made by the deputy head of a committee that in determining Mount Salem's social and infrastructure needs, 85 per cent of the community's young women were involved in prostitution, or something close to it. It turned out that that data was based on pseudoscience and anecdotal information rather than facts.
The police insist that this time they are on firm ground with their statistics. Not only are there 12 gangs operating in Denham Town, but so far this year it has recorded 17 murders; 12 in 2016; and 10 the previous year. The violence is ongoing.
There is little doubt that Denham Town deserves attention. The problem here is that so, too, do the adjacent communities - if not more so.
Denham Town is just north of Tivoli Gardens, the community where in 2010 armed irregulars fought deadly battles against the security forces to prevent the capture and arrest for extradition of crime boss and west Kingston strongman, Christopher Coke.
REFUSAL TO CONFORM
At the press conference to announce the Denham Town ZOSO, police chief George Quallo confirmed what is widely known: that the upsurge in crime in Denham Town is almost inextricably linked to criminality in next-door Tivoli Gardens. Said Mr Quallo: "Since 2015, there has been gang conflict between Tivoli Gardens/Young Generation Gang and the Denham Town Coalition as a result of the coalition's refusal to conform to the Coke family's regime, which has resulted in several murders, shootings and robberies." In other words, the pretenders to Christopher Coke's throne, those who would be his heirs and successors, want to iron authority he used to cast over west Kingston and elsewhere, but have met murderous resistance.
All sides, it seems, need to be brought to heel. The concentration on Denham Town, rather than a single, encompassing operation, is likely to give the Tivoli Gardens protagonists the opportunity to retreat and regroup. The security forces, in that respect, will have lost the element of surprise.
There must be good, logical reasons for this approach. But the danger for Prime Minister Holness is that the decision is cast as political: because Tivoli Gardens is perceived to be the epicentre of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's support and power, and is a holdover of uncertainty from the 2010 operation.