Jamaica has passed a law allowing the army and police to launch special operations in crime hotspots following a spike in murders, but this aggressive security strategy shifts away from more preventive measures and may facilitate security force abuses.
On July 19, Jamaica enacted the Zones of Special Operation (ZOSO) Act, which gives the Prime Minister the power to declare special operation zones in areas identified as having high crime rates, gang presence and violence on the advice of the National Security Council, the Jamaica Gleaner reported.
After the zones are established, a joint command of police and military forces will have the authority to establish a “cordon around or within the Zone” for no longer than 24 hours, or a “curfew … not exceeding 72 hours,” during which citizens must stay inside their homes.
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Additionally, the joint force “may search any place, vehicle or person within a Zone, without a warrant” if there is suspicion that a crime has been or may be committed. During the searches, authorities can seize any “vehicle, article or document” that may be “of substantial value” in an investigation, with few exceptions.
While conducting operations in these designated zones, agents must register all weapons with the National Security Ministry and are required to wear body cameras.
Some of the ZOSO Act’s measures also focus on improving social issues. After a special zone has been declared, the Prime Minister will establish a Social Intervention Committee to assess the area’s needs, create a socio-economic development plan and help implement government intervention programs.
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With Jamaica’s murder rate on track to hit a seven-year high, the country seems to be caught in between two different security strategies. On one hand, social programs including educational courses for at-risk students, or law enforcement initiatives such as the “Get the Guns” campaign launched in 2015 to intercept illegal firearms, address some of the root causes of growing insecurity.
But while the ZOSO Act does include preventive measures, it is also a shift towards more aggressive tactics, including the deployment of the military onto the streets. The use of excessive force by Jamaican security forces is already a serious problem, and the new law may well facilitate future human rights abuses against civilians.
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Canute Thompson, the head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, has described the new security measures as “outdated,” simply providing “Band-Aid therapy” to vulnerable areas rather than representing a “sustainable reduction” plan.