Faulty data! - Residents challenge crime figures used to declare Mount Salem zone of special operations
While praising the professionalism of the military and police personnel who have been on the ground in their community since early Friday morning, some residents of Mount Salem are adamant that Prime Minister Andrew Holness acted on faulty information in selecting their community to be the first zone of special operations (ZOSO).
"It is not true that we have had 54 murders in Mount Salem since the start of the year, the prime minister got that wrong," said Phillipa Lee, a resident of the community, when our news team visited the area yesterday.
"There is a big difference between the Mount Salem community and the Mount Salem police area, which comprises other communities such as Rose Heights and Farm Heights," declared Lee.
According to Lee, based on her calculation, the community of Mount Salem has recorded no more than 15 of the 54 murders. She added that some of the neighbouring communities, which are not included in the current zone, have much higher murder figures and much greater notoriety.
The zone covers an area concentrated in the Mount Salem community, including Clarke's Street, Katon Lane, Campbell's Lane, Piggott Street and Crawford Street, where residents are disputing the official claim that 12 murders have been committed since the start of the year.
"There needs to be a rethink of this operation to include all the communities in the Mount Salem police area, not just Mount Salem proper," said Lee.
"Additionally, something must be done to correct the message that went out, that murders are now taking place in the community, when we have not had a murder since May.
"I want to make it quite clear that I welcome this ZOSO in Mount Salem because I believe even one murder is too much. However, to get the best possible results, they need to look at the neighbouring communities also," declared Lee.
Like Lee, Kerry Thomas, the councillor for the Mount Salem division, is not pleased with the information that was given to the National Security Council, which led the prime minister to approve the community to be declared Jamaica's first zone of special operations.
"Contrary to what the prime minister was told, we don't have 12 major gangs domiciled in Mount Salem," said Thomas, as he admitted that some criminal gangs have ties to the community.
"That kind of information is making a lot of residents unhappy as while we do have problems, the picture being painted is clearly not accurate."
Another sore point for some residents is the realisation that the zone will remain in place for at least 60 days, unlike previous major operations by the security forces, which would last no longer than three days.
"Sixty days is too much for this kind of inconvenience, albeit I want to see a Mount Salem free from gun violence when this operation is over," said former Rusea's High School daCosta Cup star, Simon Gordon, who lives in the community.
"Nonetheless, I like the plans for the social intervention programmes to rebuild the community. We really need to find ways to put purpose in the lives of our young people," added Gordon.