Nicole Reid (JIS): Residents of Mount Salem, St. James, were apprehensive when the first Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) was declared in the community, in 2017; however, today they are saluting the initiative as “a good three years”.
Not only has the ZOSO served as a tool to contain crime but also it has helped to rebrand the community and transform the residents’ lives.
Resident and member of the Community Development Committee (CDC), Dawn King, says they are “thankful for the ZOSO, because we get to unite the youth together”.
According to Ms. King, before the ZOSO, “there was a restriction of movement in the community due to rival gangs, and persons were not able to freely move from one area to the other”.
“I got all the youth involved in the gang warfare and united all of them, so anyone can go to any area of the community and relax and chill. I did that with the help of the CDC,” she tells JIS News.
Minister of National Security, Dr. Horace Chang, tells JIS News that Mount Salem is in much better shape as a result of the ZOSO, noting that crime and violence have been significantly reduced.
He says the area has not had a single murder for some time. “The entire socio-environment has had major improvements. I think they have seen that without the gangs they are a better place, so they have to discourage the gangs being there,” the Minister says.
Social agencies such as the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), HEART/NSTA Trust, Social Development Commission (SDC), and the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) came on board, and contributed to the development of the community, along with strengthening the management of the CDC.
Deputy Chairman of the ZOSO Social Intervention Committee, Omar Sweeney, who is also Managing Director of the JSIF, says the committee was strategic in engaging the different social agencies, having assessed the needs of the community.
“Initially, when the ZOSO was declared, identification was a big challenge in the community. We’ve subsequently been able to issue hundreds of birth certificates, which allows persons to eventually procure national forms of ID or some other type of identification,” Mr. Sweeney says.
He further notes that by helping to provide identification for residents, a smoother transition into areas such as applying for jobs or registering for schools was enabled.
The initiative has also facilitated the expansion of social development programmes, such as the formation of parenting support groups, neighbourhood watches, sport programmes, and skills training, according to Mr. Sweeney.
President of the Mount Salem Community Development Committee Benevolent Society, Winsome Barnes, is expressing gratitude for the support received.
“JSIF has really been in the community and has led from the front when it comes to giving us things. What I like is that it [ZOSO] is making us into a community, it’s not just giving… it is training that when they have left, you still have something,” she says.
She also points to improved infrastructure in the community. “There was a lot of infrastructural work, so more attention was given to the roads, the gullies, and the drains….a new police station has been built, the refurbishing of Mount Salem Primary School, and rehabilitation of the community centre,” she notes.
Extensive work was also done in the area of waste management, and under a zinc fence removal project, some 1,000 metres of corrugated zinc fences were removed and replaced with reinforced concrete walls. That project also employed people from the community. Nordia McLeish, was one such: “I have benefited from the ZOSO because I got work from the zinc fence (removal), and the drain building,” she says.
Meanwhile, Ms. Barnes says she hopes that Mount Salem would get “a training centre and a multipurpose sporting complex, and for young men in the community to overcome their pride and take advantage of educational assistance, especially in literacy”.
The ZOSO was declared under the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) Special Security and Community Development Measures Act, which seeks to contain crime while safeguarding the human rights of residents and promoting community development through social-intervention initiatives.