Editorial | Clear, hold and build
The Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) are based on the National Security Policy, which recommended a 'clear, hold and build' strategy for normalising the high-crime communities in Jamaica. Clear, hold and build is a strategy used in areas with dangerous gangs and high levels of violence. The first task is to clear the violent gangs out of the community. The second task is to hold those areas by maintaining a strong, continuous police presence to provide reassurance and security, and to prevent the violent gangs from returning. The third task is to engage other government agencies and NGOs in strengthening the community by providing education and training, economic development, health care and justice.
The immediate goal of a clear, hold, and build strategy is to reassure the community, remove their fear of gangs, build sustained popular support, increase the flow of intelligence about gang operations, and ensure that violent gangs have no safe haven anywhere. The long-term goal is to improve the infrastructure in the area, stimulate the economy, create employment, and reintegrate the community back into normal society.
A clear, hold and build strategy works best in combination with other anti-gang tactics. For example, the city of Boston in the USA developed a system for persuading young people to leave gangs. Police and community leaders give gang members a clear choice. They can leave the gang, in which case they get training and counselling to help them get a job, or they can stay in the gang, in which case they get frequent and intrusive monitoring by the police. This 'carrot and stick' approach has been very successful in reducing gang membership.
It is also important to break the cycle of violence, which requires focusing on the children in the communities. Many of the children that do not do well at school are from broken or dysfunctional families, and have limited social skills; others are seriously traumatised, having been abused, raped, beaten, or having seen family members murdered. Children that have lost one or both parents or a close relative to violence often show very aggressive, disturbed behaviour, which can result in their being punished or excluded at school, thereby damaging them further. These children can be readily recruited into gangs, which can serve as a substitute family. The most effective place to intervene is in the schools, but most teachers have not been trained to deal with these problems. It is, therefore, important to ensure that every school in the area has access to a counsellor who is experienced in dealing with trauma, post-traumatic stress, depression and other consequences of child abuse.
NOT AN END IN ITSELF
So a ZOSO is not an end in itself. The whole point of a ZOSO is to make it possible for all of the other remedial work to take effect. This is why a national programme that combines all of these elements is much more likely to succeed in bringing about a permanent reduction in the level of violence. Sporadic, uncoordinated efforts do not have any lasting effect.
This explains why the countries that have successfully used clear, hold and build and other strategies for reducing violence have all had one important thing in common - the strong leadership needed to provide the necessary coordination between different programmes and government agencies.
Jamaica's track record in this area is not encouraging. There are a number of social intervention agencies and programmes, but they have never been integrated into a coherent strategy. Inter-Ministry and inter-agency coordination is usually poor. The police rarely get the support that they need. Politicians have sometimes interfered to protect particular gang members, and money from the Constituency Development Fund all too often goes to criminals.
The ZOSO programme is a worthy attempt, but there remains one important question. Is the Government of Jamaica willing and able to make it a top priority for every arm of government? If the answer is yes, then the ZOSO programme could be a first step towards ending the long years of bloodshed. If the answer is no, it will probably join the long list of failed initiatives.