Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a statement to Parliament said that the initiative is not meant to stigmatize communities, but instead, is meant to help foster the process of engagement and confidence-building between the citizens and the state.
“In addition to the benefit to communities, the process has also helped to improve the procedures and protocols of the security forces. Albeit, some lessons have been learned through errors made, improvements have been pursued to create a better system of data collection, collation and reporting, and service to the Jamaican public.
“All law-abiding citizens of this country are therefore being urged to stand with the security forces, embrace this initiative and own their responsibilities as stakeholders in this country. Though it is early in the implementation of the first Zone the signs for peace and transformation of Mount Salem are positive,’ Holness told legislators.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Holness said the decision to declare Mount Salem as the first ZOSO was based on police statistics, which show that the area is a major crime hotspot.
He said the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) made a written request for operations in Mount Salem, noting that all weapons that would be used in the zone have been registered with the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine and the members of the security forces, who will be conducting operations, will have their names and badges fully displayed.
In addition, the National Security Council will convene to receive and consider the written report of the Joint Command that must be submitted every 10 days.
The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act was passed earlier this year in the Houses of Parliament. It seeks to contain crime while safeguarding the human rights of residents and promoting community development through social intervention initiatives.
The law gives the Prime Minister power to declare an area a Zone of Special Operations in order to tackle increased crime and volatility in a community. This is in consultation with the National Security Council.
The zone can only be established after the police commissioner and the chief of defence staff make a request for such a declaration in writing to the Prime Minister.
Holness told legislators Tuesday that Jamaica’s greatest asset is its people and the greatest tool of the people is intellectual power.
“In so far as this power is used to advance positive criticism and suggest meaningful solutions, this is welcomed and encouraged. With that being said, while the legislation is not ‘perfect’, and the process has not been without its own challenges, this security measure is an ambitious and necessary tool which has been well considered, and has been designed in the best interest of the people.
“Like any piece of legislation, there is an approved process for amendments to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development) Act, where it is assessed that such amendments are required to make it more effective. “
Holness said that such amendments must however be preceded by recommendations that will be duly considered by the National Security Council (NSC) and presented as a Cabinet submission for approval.
In his statement, he said an analysis of crime statistics particularly violent crimes, and especially murders and shootings, reveal a pattern of geographic concentration, and within those areas are clearly defined epi-centres or hotspots.
“There are certain communities, where the level of crime and violence is elevated beyond the level of normal law enforcement. These areas of elevated criminal activities do not represent the majority of communities in Jamaica.
“In fact, most communities in Jamaica are peaceful and law abiding. Areas with elevated levels of crime and violence map closely with high unemployment, low incomes, poor infrastructure, unplanned settlements, and generally a lack of access to state amenities and services.”
Holness said that criminals operate freely in these communities, taking life, “taking your daughters, taking property, and extorting tax to protect you from them.
“Mr Speaker, the history of intervention by the state shows that an overreliance on policing measures may attenuate the situation in the short-term but does not bring long term stability and normalization. Any strategy to address these areas must be comprehensive, sustained, inclusive and respectful of human rights and the dignity of the people.”
Holness said that ZOSO legislation now establishes the legal framework in which the Prime Minister, acting on the advice of the National Security Council (NSC) may declare any high crime area of Jamaica a zone for special security operations and community development measures.
He said to ensure its success, several important and enabling provisions were included within the Act. “Consideration regarding these provisions were deliberate, systematic and thorough to ensure that the measures would be meaningful and impactful.
“In addition to supporting the security forces in the execution of their duties, the Act was therefore, by design, equally strong in its provisions to safeguard the human rights of residents and promote community development through social intervention initiatives.”
He told legislators that Mount Salem lives matter as do those in any area likely to be designated a zone and that the discussion as to whether the zone should be there or elsewhere should not arise once it is clear that the criteria laid down in the Act are satisfied.
“Several communities would meet the threshold of elevated violence above the capacity of normal law enforcement measures; however they all cannot be treated with at once, so other operational and strategic considerations must factor in making the choice as to where to go first.
“The Zone declared in Mount Salem captures what is deemed to be the epicentre of violence within the police area with four major gangs operating from there, even though there are other communities contributing to the violence,” Holness said.
- Countries: Jamaica