Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Mark Wignall | Is ZOSO more than political optics?

Published:Sunday | November 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Members of the security forces talk with a resident in Denham Town, west Kingston during ZOSO operations recently.

In the year 2000 when the nation experienced another of its spikes in the murder rate and some influential members of the big business community made sufficient noise, the politicians reached for the Crime Management Unit (CMU) and made SSP Reneto Adams into the most feared crime fighter at high noon and at midnight.

By 2005, Jamaica had made it to the top of the international list in murder rates. In late 2017, the flavour of the moment is Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs). It is being seen by those most charitable in their views of this JLP administration as the government's best response to the country's runaway murder rate.

But cracks have begun to show up, and it would be foolish to pretend they do not exist just because we want to come out on the right side of 'inaction is not an option'. The very fact the that ZOSO has been extended by 60 days in Mount Salem, the first community chosen for this great social experiment, is likely to mean that the $2.6 billion price tag for ZOSO has begun its budget-busting movement.




The government and the security forces do not have the resources of personnel and cash to operate more than three ZOSOs at any one time. Bear in mind that there is a ZOSO in Denham Town, so the nation is near to full capacity on its ineffectiveness.

To the extent that a ZOSO in a community lessens murders and gives the residents a boost in how much safer, secure, and happier they feel, a ZOSO is a microcosm of effective governance, but in a concentrated form, that only a withdrawal of state resources from other areas can make possible.

It is, therefore, unsustainable. "ZOSO is like a pardner," said a local university professor to me recently. "Everybody cannot get a draw all at once, so Mount Salem get the first draw then Denham Town. The big spoiler is that having been given the first draw, with many other troubled and needy communities lining up for their draw, Mount Salem is set to get the third draw, too."

A Jamaican journalist living abroad for a decade, but fully in touch with matters close to home, asked me last Wednesday: "Why are you ruling out the likelihood that there is more strategic politics in the matter instead of it matching with the bigger plan? Maybe it was done to burnish the lukewarm political image of the West Central St James JLP MP, Marlene Malahoo Forte."

"I never saw it that way, but if it is so, I congratulate her on her acute understanding of effective political horse trading," I said.

Hit jobs and settling scores

More than just a few of the murders taking place at this time have matched the fingerprint of those tagged as 'hit jobs.' It is known that at times, businessmen from uptown and mid-town operate in sync with armed men from downtown. In fact, in a significant number of instances, it is the very infernal collaboration that gives the businessmen their successes.

If the terms of the mutuality are breached and armed men downtown have reason to believe that they have been shortchanged, they will take the law into their own hands and take out the businessman with a well-targeted assassination. Plus, some men downtown are murder-for-hire specialists.

Often, the order for the hits originates in some posh uptown apartment, and the target is a businessman living blocks away. Sometimes it is difficult to determine reprisal killings among gang members from robbers and thieves who are off on their own adventures of mayhem, pain, blood, and death. There are also the noted cases of men on gun charges reporting to the police as conditions of bail and conveniently being cut down immediately after.

"Mi nuh have no problem wid dat," said a carpenter to me recently. "Nuff a dem a dutty murderer, and if it do come to court, no witness, and dem get wey. Me suspect a who a kill dem, an me support the move."

The JCF cannot stop murders

It is becoming increasingly obvious that if the police force was staffed by 25,000 members, we would probably experience a proportionate increase in the present dysfunction of the JCF long before any real effectiveness is seen and felt by the people of this country.

According to veteran journalist Ben Brodie who has drafted a response to the invitation from the National Security Minister for, '... all Jamaicans with workable ideas and solutions to come to the table...', "This mentality of dependence on a band of armed men and women to protect an entire population has proven to be both impractical and costly, especially in terms of innocent lives."

According the journalist, it is only collective security that will cut it. "The Collective Security Plan seeks to break with this dependence tradition and, more importantly, to give citizens, properly, solidly and legally organised in their communities, the primary responsibility to devise and implement individual community security plans to push back on crime and keep communities as crime-free as possible."

This is not some fanciful socialist, utopian dream. In fact it is at the core thinking of just about every political leader in this country who has been consistent in exhortations that the citizens of this country need to see crime fighting as allied to their own personal safety.

One key part of this plan (again, not new) but needing broad buy-in to be effective is 'Establishing a land-based Border Patrol to constantly monitor all illegal sea ports of entry.'

It is pointless for the JCF with limited resources of adequately trained and equipped personnel to be chasing down guns in spot checks and relying on spasmodic tips to recover guns and ammunition while the points of entry are still very fluid.




Who knows our coastlines as well as the fisherfolk in our southern, northern and eastern areas? No one, and certainly not members of the coastguard. Bringing in communities in an organised fashion to create active monitoring points is not an impossibility.

People, like farmers troubled by constant raids from the criminal specialists in praedial larceny, should not have too much problem in bringing expansion to the little plan they have working in their villages.

This is by no means an acceptance that the JCF has no role. Certainly much of what the police would find themselves doing most ineffectively would be done by citizens in their own communities in an organised way. That would free up the police to increase its efficiency in much of the work that is now either shirked or approached half-heartedly.

As stated by security minister, Bobby Montague 81 per cent of crimes are committed by the gun. And, of course, they continue to enter the most porous points in our coastline.

But there still exists mistrust between the citizens and the JCF. Get the Guns has failed because many citizens are still fearful that the info they give will create tracking points on their identity.

"In the Collective Security Plan citizens would give such info to say, a PTA board in the community and it would transmit the info to the police. They want a buffer between them to make it easier," said Brodie.

We have been living with the JCF since just after the mass killings of Jamaican citizens in the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion. Increasingly, the police force is coming in long after mayhem has broken out, a sure sign that the arrangement of security in this country is badly broken.

Yet, we keep on fooling ourselves that new initiatives by the JCF is the next silver bullet. As a pardner draw, ZOSO is eagerly awaited in the next community. But, do we trust the banker?

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