Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Martin Henry | Operation Mt Salem

Published:Friday | September 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM

On Friday, the first zone of special operations, Mount Salem, was declared by the prime minister. It was long overdue.

Speaking last Thursday in the PM's absence from the country visiting Chile, the minister of justice had told a sensitisation session that the first ZOSOs would be declared in "a matter of days".

I would have been happier if Prime Minister Holness had tumbled out of the plane from Chile, raced through violence-torn east Kingston with his protective services entourage, and go directly to Jamaica House, bypassing his guarded Beverly Hills mansion to meet with the National Security Council for the ZOSO declaration.

While Minister Chuck yet spoke, another four persons were killed in Clarendon on another busy day for murders.

I share the concern of the Opposition about the lag between the rushing of the law and the declaration of the first ZOSO. Even though it has finally been implemented, we may have lost the tactical advantage of immediacy.

The minister of justice says the Government has already identified several areas to be declared but has been delayed by preparatory steps.

I hope the political directorate, which has final responsibility for the peace and good order of Jamaica and for law enforcement, will ignore the suggestion of the commissioner of police that considering the capacity of the security forces, only two areas at a time should be declared ZOSOs. Capacity for doing what, though?

Today is the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II in 1939. We have our own war against crime, an existential threat to the nation. It's a good time to talk strategy. Both the immediate past minister of national security, Peter Bunting, and the current one, Robert Montague, despite their contrived public disagreements are united in the view that we need divine intervention in crime-fighting.


Gideon strategy


We should read our Bibles and adopt the Gideon Strategy with his 300 warriors shrunk down from 32,000. It wouldn't be the first for adopting tactical manoeuvres from Scripture. In around 1087 BC, a two-man daredevil Israelite team of King Saul's son Jonathan and his armour-bearer sneaked upon a Philistine 'garrison' at Michmash through a secret path between two rocks, a passageway described in great detail, surprised the enemy, which were in far greater number, and thoroughly routed them.

Three thousand years later, during World War I when British forces under General Allenby faced the Turks of the Ottoman Empire at the same location, a brigade major recalled the Michmash story, dug it up in I Samuels 13 & 14, and crafted a rerun of the Jonathan attack. Patrols found the pass. On the night of February 18, 1918, just one company from the full brigade was deployed to launch a surprise attack up the very same passageway that Jonathan had used. And with the same results.

Our 'war' is different, but the mass deployment of hundreds of combat-ready security forces operatives may not be necessary to clear and hold the half-acre field of Michmash in any zone of special operations. Waves of combatants going 'over the top' is not even used in conventional warfare anymore and has been a massive waste of human resources in domestic paramilitary policing.

The short-staffed JCF has around 12,000 members, depending on whose count is used. The JDF has 6,000. Our out-of-control crime situation is a national public emergency. No less than a quarter of the police force and a third of the army should be specifically deployed in an intensive anti-crime campaign to include the ZOSOs, but extending beyond them. That's 5,000 security-force operatives. Divided into working squads of 50, that's 100 such squads. In any deployment configuration, that's a lot of ZOSOs covered.

What the commissioner should busy himself with is drawing up his operations needs list. When elections are to be called, the EOJ tells Finance what is needed and what the bill is going to be; and the money is found.

Minister Chuck says part of the preparation delay was to get enough body cameras for security-force operatives in the ZOSOs. A lot more is going to be needed on the Security and Justice side even before we get to the spend for 'build'.

Where's the money to come from for dealing with this national public emergency, which crime is? It must come from the national Budget through repurposing a percentage of every portfolio budget to the imperative of clear, hold, build. On the edge of the start of the new school year, I heard the minister of education last week giving a reasoned and reasonable explanation of why ZOSOs will be good for education.


Better learning opportunity


When peace prevails in communities and law and order rules, every child will have a better opportunity to learn. And fewer of them will get killed. The University Hospital is praying for peace in August Town as flare-ups of violence in this neighbouring community pushes up their trauma caseload. Just recently, Kingston Public Hospital, more usually the recipient of referrals, had to refer patients to other hospitals as it was overloaded with trauma cases from violence.

Crime sets back every area of national life and government. A painless 2.5 per cent slice of this year's $670-billion Budget would yield $16.75 billion for clear, hold, build operations. This could be easily doubled by tapping the range of sequestered special funds to finance operations in their dedicated areas of operation: NHT, HEART Trust, TEF, CHASE, UAF, etc.

I was alarmed to hear the commanding officer for crime-beleaguered Clarendon, Superintendent Vendolyn Cameron-Powell, publicly outlining details of her 'troop' strength in the parish and of deployment challenges. No serious commanding officer intending to win does that. With all due respect to our brave and bold watchdog media, there are some things that the public should not know.

But saying that, no other piece of legislation has been as explicitly protective of human rights as the zones of special operations law. The very best thing to happen is for special operations to be carried out in the full glare of media coverage. Let's have the embedded journalists. Most people will see this as good for human-rights monitoring, but I have another motive in mind, a motive of tactic. Maximum publicity given to the operations will send the tactically valuable signal seh guvament nah romp! In fact, Government should go even further in signalling that it nah romp!

I return to my near two-year-old column of October 11, 2015, '72 hours to a safer Jamaica'. Concurrently with zones of special operations, the security forces should take charge of public spaces and should enforce law and order. Saturation coverage is not necessary, and cannot be afforded in either human or material resources. Making an example will send powerful signals.

The police mobilise for saturated street coverage at Christmas because they think it works. And then they retreat to stations and offices until next Christmas. In 72 hours, three days, for a start, Jamaica can visibly start to become a safer place. With measurable reductions starting to happen in murders, extortion, scamming, praedial larceny, robberies, traffic violations, public transport violations, vending violations, environmental breaches, noise abatement violations. The whole gamut of crime, lawlessness, and disorder.

The security forces, by simply being there, need to take back the towns and streets of Jamaica, the public spaces that the public authority controls. There is a psychology to crime and lawlessness that is very well known. People will push the limits and do what they can get away with without being apprehended. But people also, to an overwhelming degree, yield to visible and serious authority. And people modify their behaviour from observing exemplary cases of punishment.

Our security forces, with full respect for human rights, must move to take control of the town centres and commercial hubs and transport centres by sheer presence. September morning, as the children head back to school, would be a great time. The forces must control with presence the known urban crime hotspots. They must police the softer quality of life laws as well, which will not only improve quality of life but send a massive national signal of seriousness of intent in restoring law and public order.We will need roaming rapid response backup units.

ZOSOs, on their own, especially if too few, are very likely to produce the balloon effect of pushing crime into other areas. Let's do it right this time and tackle this national public emergency on a broad enough front, in a sustained enough manner, and with enough resources provided for real success.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and