The Jamaican parliament yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of another three-month extension of the State of Emergency in North St Catherine. It was absolutely the right thing to do.
The States of Emergency and the Zones of Special Operations are now proven effective crime fighting strategies, as the decline in murder figures in the respective areas where they are in operation show.
What is interesting is that members of the Opposition, who had been at one point vehemently opposed to the anti-crime measures, are now embracing the policy and are even calling for its expansion.
Members of Parliament Mark Golding, Phillip Paulwell, Dr Angela Brown-Burke and Dr. Wykeham McNeil all made impassioned pleas for elements of the ZOSO concept to be extended to their constituencies.
So it appears that members of the opposition are now finally realising that crime is everybody’s problem and it is not a political bargaining chip.
The first Zone of Special Operation was established at Mount Salem in Montego Bay on September 1, 2017. It has had several extensions and the reports from the community just over a year later indicate that it has worked very well.
The Clear, Hold, Build strategy has seen a reduction in overall criminal activity and anti-social behaviour. The community is now in the build phase and the regeneration efforts, including the replacement of zinc fences with concrete walls is giving the residents a new lease on life.
The Denham Town Zone is now poised to enter that phase and this weekend there will be a major social intervention in the community including a massive concert for the residents. There can be no doubt that the ZOSO has saved many lives in the general West Kingston area; for one, it has nullified the influence of the chronic Coke-family crime problem which was threatening to once again destabilise the entire area.
In North St Catherine and the wider St James, residents are now living near-to-normal lives and that is the very least that the state should be able to guarantee.
The big question though, is when will the request for extensions of the operations end and how is the government going to prevent a return to the old days of marauding gunmen and rampant criminality?
This is where the focus of the policy makers in the nation’s security apparatus now needs to be placed.
A more radical and aggressive recruitment process is required to attain optimal police numbers so that presence can be maintained in those communities without the attendant negative impact on neighbouring communities. This will include improving the terms and conditions for the rank and file of the force, including better pay and benefits.
There should be no hurry to return the soldiers to camp because their very presence on the roads has a deterrent effect. While we will never be comfortable with the murder figures, because every life matters, the twenty-odd per cent reduction that has been seen since January is most welcome and shows that we are heading in the right direction.
The way forward is to continue to hold and build those communities where there are enhanced measures at the moment and move towards establishing zones in other areas, to limit the options for migrating criminals and eventually squeeze them out of the system.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared that Jamaica should develop the muscle to tackle large and complex projects. Crime is our largest and most complex problem; he should not be daunted by criticism. He should remain steely in his to solve this problem for good and he is on the right path. He simply needs to apply more resources and wider strategies to get the job completed.