Jamaica got its first taste of the zones of special operation (ZOSO) initiative yesterday when a large contingent of military and police personnel blanketed the volatile Mount Salem community in St James,
which is one of the hotbeds of violence in a parish that has recorded a nation-topping 191 murders since the start of the year.
“So far, things are going as we had expected. There are a number of checkpoints that are being manned jointly by the military and the police, and we have all the command structure in place and all the resources.
So from all indications, things are working,” Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, the head of the Constabulary Communication Unit, told The Gleaner some five hours into the operations.
“We have the command structure in place; we have the resources in place that we had planned for to take on the first phase of the zone.”
While there were no significant seizures or arrests when she spoke to the media, Lindsay said a number of persons were detained for further processing, as well as various checkpoints set up around the community.
“Things are going well, we know that they have picked up a couple of persons that they want to take to the police station to do some more processing,
so that is ongoing,” said Lindsay. “I see some justices of the peace (JPs) in the area, so I think, overall, things are going as planned.”
For the residents of Mt Salem, the operation took them by complete surprise as they were awoken by numerous helicopters flying overhead with bright lights, at approximately 2 a.m.
One resident said when he looked outside, he realised that the community was flooded with soldiers and police personnel.
“Trust me, I was very surprised. It was like thousands of soldiers and police rushing down into the various lanes,” said John Barrett, who resides along the Mt Salem main road. “I knew immediately that something big was happening.”
By daybreak, Barrett said every street spanning from Pedlars Lane at the community’s entrance through to O’Conner Lane, Crawford Street, Piggott Street, Coffee Lane, Katon Lane, and Clarke Street were all occupied by heavily armed police and military personnel.
… Some persons annoyed at inconvenience
Major Basil Jarrett, the civil military cooperation officer at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), said he was quite pleased so far with the ongoing special operations in Mount Salem, St James, especially with the element of surprise, which they gained when a joint security force swooped down on the community in the early hours of yesterday morning.
“We expected that persons would be surprised to see the masses of troops and police officers this morning,” said Jarrett. “We could not telegraph that this was going to happen so some of the people who were going about their legitimate business would have been annoyed at being inconvenienced.”
Jarrett said the main mission of the military is to get the area under control so that the entry points to the community can be adequately covered.
“The JDF is out in its numbers, the entire area is heavily flooded with troops. Our main mission right now is to get the area under control so that we can limit, manage, and control the entry points into Mt Salem, do the necessary searches, that we need to do so that we can carry out the very important Phase One of the operation, which is the clearing phase of the mission,” he told The Gleaner.
WE WERE READY
Based on the crime situation in St James, many persons were not surprised that the parish was chosen as the first ZOSO.
In fact, acting Custos of St James, Claudette Bryan, who heads the parish’s lay magistrate’s association, said her team of justices of the peace were in a state of readiness.
“We were ready. This information was disseminated to the justices in the parish, so they were well aware,” said Bryan. “Some of us were more aware than others. We have justices who have committed themselves to the process. We don’t have a problem with justices who are willing to support this initiative.”
For many residents of Mount Salem, especially the elderly, the operation could not have come at a better time, as the gang conflict in the community, especially on Crawford Street, which has recorded 16 murders since the start of the year, was creating fear and anxiety.
“When I saw the soldiers this morning, I feel like going into my kitchen and cooking breakfast for them. You know how long I have been waiting for them to come,” said pensioner Lydia Bennett.
“The boys are not behaving themselves and this killing thing must stop, so I feel good this morning when I wake up and see what is happening.”
MOUNT SALEM BOUNDARIES:
North: Along Mt. Salem main road from Barnett View Drive to Catherine Drive
East: Along Catherine Drive from Mount Salem main road to Mount Salem Gully
South: Along Mount Salem Gully from Catherine Drive to Barnett View Drive
West: Along Barnett View Drive from Mount Salem Gully to Mount Salem main road.