Jamaica’s New Security Plan Off to Inauspicious Beginning

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Based on erroneous and false information, the Jamaican government has launched a new initiative to corral criminal groups in what is possibly the wrong urban zone, residents of the area claim. 

Mount Salem residents said the police furnished Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the government’s top security agency — the National Security Council (NSC) — with incorrect data about murders and gang presence in their neighborhood in the St. James parish, The Jamaica Gleaner reported. The residents said there were 4, not 12 gangs, and that it had seen 12 murders this year, not the 54 the police claimed.

The distinction is critical. Holness presented the police’s data on September 1, to justify making Mount Salem the first Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO), reported the Jamaica Observer. The police has since admitted that it made a mistake with the data, but the government has continued with its plan, which allows authorities to designate a violent neighborhood as a ZOSO and deploy a joint police-military force. The joint force has the authority to conduct searches without warrants for 60 days, and is supposedly followed up by social and community programs meant to prevent crime.

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The NSC argued that “the nature of the error would not have affected the decision of the NSC, as it was limited to only one of the factors used to determine the zone,” according to The Jamaica Gleaner. At the same time, the NSC called on the police to “review their systems of data collection, collation and reporting.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Amid high levels of homicides, Jamaican authorities appear more pressed to take action than take a careful, studied approach to citizen security. In this case, they implemented their plan in reverse order. The government’s first priority should be clearly defining the hot spots. That way, they will know how and what resources they will need to deploy. Instead, they moved on data that was wrong on not one, but two factors: homicides and the number of operational criminal groups.

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Despite claims by the prime minister that “the next zone of special operations will be declared based on careful intelligence and planning,” trust with the community will be hard to rebuild. To be sure, the decision to maintain the ZOSO in Mount Salem even after having to publicly admit its error, illustrates that the government is ready to adapt the reality to match the policy rather than the other way around.

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