Fri | Jan 22, 2021

Peter Espeut | ZOSO, SOE diminishing returns

Published:Friday | February 14, 2020 | 12:00 AM

I am sure almost all of us who live in Jamaica have to go through two, three or four police/military checkpoints as we go about our daily business. What do the authorities hope to achieve by these operations? Do the young boys and girls who staff these traffic stops have ­photos of wanted men or persons of interest, which is why they stare into our faces as we pass?

I notice that many of these checkpoints are sited in convenient places for persons who want to avoid them; just turn on to the road before, go around, and emerge on a road after the police/military blockade. As I wait patiently in line, I have seen taxis do that on Windward Road; depending on their direction of travel, they turn up Commission Road, down Deoch Road, back on to Windward Road, and they’re off; or the reverse.

Similarly on Waltham Park Road.

If I were a wanted man and I wanted to pass a police checkpoint, all I would have to do is board a bus, and I would pass through undetected and unmolested. Last week I took a luxury coach to Montego Bay, and passed a checkpoint on the Trelawny/St James border. They don’t even look into those buses.

Travelling in a car, they might ask if I have a firearm. If I had an illegal firearm, would I say “Yes?” It is a pointless question.

What purpose do these inspection stops serve? I know they want to appear to be doing SOMETHING rather than nothing, especially when an election is in the air; but these checkpoints serve only to cause traffic jams. I think our security bosses need to wheel and come again. We have to find a ­better way to detect and control crime and criminals.

Checkpoints are only useful when you don’t know where they are, and you come upon them unexpectedly; having them in the same place for six months, I believe, is a total waste of time. Move them around and surprise us – and the wrongdoers.

Approaching a checkpoint, I have seen cars abruptly stop, turn around and speed off in the opposite direction. It is those cars that need to be chased, stopped, and searched. Motorcycle cops need to be at the ready to go in hot pursuit in such eventualities. No such luck! Missed opportunities!


I notice that the checkpoint on Mountain View Avenue by Deanery Avenue is only manned in the ­evenings. What is the point of that? Whoever is holed up in the night can easily escape in the morning, carrying with them ­anything they wish.

Besides, on the edge of Long Mountain/Wareika Hills, you can move by car or on foot from Hampstead Gardens, through Backbush, Saunders Gardens, Norman Gardens, Johnson Town, D’Aguilar Town, and Rennock Lodge without touching the main road where the checkpoints are.

The longer a checkpoint remains at a particular point, the less ­effective it is, as wrongdoers get better at avoiding it. In economics, it is called the law of diminishing returns. These zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and states of emergency (SOEs) have long lost their sting. And as constitutionally they were our last resort in case of a public emergency, we have no other arrows in our quiver!

Intelligence-driven, lightning, full-circle cordons and searches (spearfishing) should produce ­better results than these long-term, static checkpoints (net fishing). The searches should be thorough, and all back fences, back roads and back lanes should be guarded.

The trouble is that neither party has shown any political will to catch the many politically ­connected gangsters and enforcers in their garrison enclaves, not to ­mention drug traders and gunrunners, ­especially as ­elections approach.

Reporters from this news­paper were easily able to uncover ­evidence of the drug-for-guns trade on Jamaica’s south coast. What do the Police Special Branch and the Military Intelligence Unit do all day?

Bring in lawmen from the UK, Canada, or the US to find the guns and the gunmen, and to bring extortion to an end, and see how quickly we get results! And then we will see some big names in jail.


Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to