Yhomo Hutchinson

There have been more murders in Jamaica so far this year than for all of 2016, prompting the administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to undertake a slew of tough new measures including the imposition of 12-hour curfews in some crime-ridden and gang-dominated neighborhoods in Kingston, the island’s capital this week.

Cabinet, worried that the situation is spiraling out of control in areas such as Denham Town in West Kingston have ordered police and the military to impose what locals call a zone of special operations (ZOSO), meaning that the security forces can and have taken full control of movement and security in and out of the area.

A total 1,207 people were killed in all of Jamaica in 2016 but the number of murders has spiraled so badly this year to 1,270 that authorities have determined that the time to act is now before nearly a dozen marauding gangs take complete control of the low income and depressed communities. And compared to up to mid October last year, official figures show that ‘only’ 997 were killed.

“The selected zone was deemed to have met the first order criteria for being considered and declared a zone,” Holness said in an announcement. “Those first order criteria would be ongoing gang warfare, rampant criminality, escalating violence and murder, and a threat to rule of law.”

Police Chief George Quallo says intelligence has determined that there are at least a dozen gangs operating in the community with names like Upsetter Gang, Scare Dem, Rich and Famous and Scream Corner.

“Since 2015, there has been gang conflict between Tivoli Gardens / Young Generation Gang and the Denham Town Coalition as a result of the coalition’s refusal to conform to the Coke family’s regime, which has resulted in several murders, shootings and robberies. The ongoing gang feud has resulted in increased violence in the area which directly affects the free movement of residents and also has a negative impact of economic and social activities within the communities and surrounding areas,” the police chief told reporters.

Denham Town is the second to come under full control of security agencies following in the wake of Mount Salem in St. James where gangs were also threatening to take control and seriously disturb the peace and daily life activities.

Police say they have seized an astonishing 700 illegal weapons so far this year and expect to close the year with about 1,000 off the streets and in police hands.

The Jamaican Gleaner Newspaper quoted Assistant Police Chief Steve McGregor as saying that government is determined to improve safety levels in affected communities in the coming months and prevent gangs from taking over.

“The first intention is to create safe communities in the divisions, because the idea is that we can’t change all at the same time.” Security forces will ensure children go to school safely and a mentorship program will be set up with official assistance to supplement what officers call are areas with poor parenting skills he said.

“It’s the curfew not a big-stick approach where the police will be driving around and taking kids off the street. We will select monitors from within the communities, and these monitors will be the first-responders to these deviant kids,” he said.

And as expected, the two major parties are blaming each other for the state of crime in the country.

Opposition legislator told the Observer Newspaper that government is clearly unable to bring down the crime rate and should so admit to Jamaicans in a clear manner.

“More people are dying today than when the People’s National Party (PNP) was in office and nothing has been put forward by the PM and his security minister or his government since then until now. This is more than 18 months after taking office.”

Both the army and police are being extremely circumspect this time around about the use of force and other rough methods, preferring to try to win friends and influence people rather than engaging in gun battles and other forms of clashes with residents in the affected communities.

This is so because the memories of the globally reported gun battles between the forces and nearby Tivoli Gardens that killed more than 70 people including soldiers and police back in 2010. This had occurred during a US-backed operation to flush out and arrest now convicted area strongman Chris “Dudus” Coke back in 2010. He eventually surrendered and was extradited to the United States where he is serving time for international drug trafficking and other crimes.