Jamaica Brings Back Security Force Occupation as Violence Rises

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Security forces in Jamaica are being sent back into a neighborhood where the recent withdrawal of a joint military-police occupation led to a spike in murders, highlighting the ineffectiveness of short-term strategies that don’t tackle the roots of entrenched gang control.

Amid concerns over a surge in homicides in recent weeks, police and soldiers were redeployed on April 23 to the west Kingston neighborhood of Denham Town, one of three high-crime locations designated as “zones of special operations” (ZOSO) late last year, the Jamaica Gleaner reported.

Six months into the rollout of the ZOSO program in Denham Town, authorities had moved ahead in their “clear, hold and build” strategy, scaling back security forces to allow for the implementation of social intervention projects. However, immediately following the withdrawal of police and soldiers, local residents told the Jamaica Gleaner that “heavily armed rival gangs are again running riot,” and at least 20 people have been gunned down.

In response to the surge in violence, ZOSO communications head Dian Bartley said that officials have had to “restrategize” their approach, reestablishing security checkpoints and returning police and soldiers to patrol the streets as “criminal elements” are “seeking to exploit the gains” of the program.

Earlier this month, Jamaica’s congress voted to extend the ZOSO program for an additional 60 days, the third such extension for Denham Town and the fourth for the neighborhood of Mount Salem in northwestern Jamaica’s Montego Bay area. At the time of the vote, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that “crime has been significantly reduced and the residents [of the ZOSOs] have been enjoying some level of peace in their community.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

Several other officials tied to the security strategy have also pointed to the positive impact of the ZOSOs. In March, Jamaica Defense Force Colonel Daniel Pryce, who is in charge of implementing the program, boasted that the “zones of special operations have been very successful.” Local councillors for Mount Salem and neighboring Montego Bay have also thrown their support behind the program, citing progress on social and infrastructure projects that have been facilitated by heightened security.

However, Fitz Jackson, the national security spokesman for the opposition People’s National Party, has criticized the ZOSOs and the use of states of emergency in various other neighborhoods as “temporary measures” that “cannot contain the widespread problems” fueling Jamaica’s “crime issue.”

InSight Crime Analysis

As Jamaica’s security situation continues to deteriorate, authorities appear to be clumsily implementing a short-sighted and heavy-handed security approach that is missing the mark when comes to quelling rising murder rates and disrupting the criminal activities of local gangs.

As InSight Crime has previously reported, since its launch in September 2017, the security crackdown has “been marred by rushed implementation, at times based on unreliable information,” and may be fueling gang recruitment and overburdening jails.

In fact, Jamaica’s rising homicide rate in the last three years is likely being exacerbated by the crackdown, which has caused the island nation’s gangs to splinter, disperse and diversify their criminal activities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Jamaica

For decades, corruption within Jamaica’s two main political parties has given criminals free reign in “garrison communities” — neighborhoods controlled by gangs known as “posses” that support the election of friendly politicians to ensure their criminal activities go undeterred. However, in recent years, as some politicians have sought to distance themselves from the gangs, and security operations have taken down top bosses, the ensuing chaos has fueled violent clashes for control over lucrative criminal activities.

These dynamics may be behind the recent wave of murders in Dunham Town. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, local residents believe the killings are linked to a gang feud between rival factions from Denham Town and neighboring Tivoli Gardens, which has recently forged an alliance with gang members from Golden Heights.

While elevated fears among Dunham Town residents have led some to welcome the return of police and soldiers, others believe the security occupation will do little to quell crime unless remaining ties between crime groups and politicians are addressed.

“This is bigger than police and soldiers. They can’t stop this. Only politicians can stop this because here is a garrison,” one resident told the Jamaica Gleaner.

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