Rising crime, violence brought on Norwood ZOSO – PM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Sunday said that the decision to impose a zone of special operations (ZOSO) in Norwood, St James, stemmed from the steady rise in crime and violence in the community.

Holness said since the start of 2021 there have been 15 murders and 14 shootings in the community, which has a population of almost 12,000 people. And, since 2019, there have been 66 murders recorded, with six gangs wreaking havoc in and around the area.

“There are six gangs known to be operating in that very small space. And those gangs, though they are based in that area, operate all over St James. So, the ZOSO will target this area and will bring some peace to the community, but it will give an opportunity for that community to turn a new leaf in its existence,” Holness told reporters yesterday, during a virtual press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister.

Norwood is represented in Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang.

“An analysis of the situation in the Norwood community within the parish of St James and within the St James Police Division has revealed that the community continues to be characterised by increased gang-related violence and criminal activity,” Holness stated, noting that a total of 20 other communities across Jamaica are also being targeted.

A 48-hour curfew was imposed in Norwood at 3 o’ clock on Sunday morning, and Lieutenant Colonel Champlini Henry of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and Superintendent of Police Vernon Ellis of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are jointly in charge of operations within the area.

In the meantime, 79 murders have been recorded in St James since 2021 – a 55 per cent increase compared to the corresponding period last year. Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson said Norwood falls in the Montego Hills policing area, which accounts for the highest proportion of both murders and shootings in the parish.

“Our investigations have shown that there are other murders and shootings that take place outside of the designated area that are caused by the six gangs that operate in the Norwood area,” Anderson said.

“The main sources of funding for these gangs are from lottery scamming, contract killings, extortion, and robberies. They also receive funds from members who have migrated, and in some sections of the community, the gang members have the support of their family and other citizens. This support, which sometimes arises from fear, and continued funding significantly contributes to the viability of these gangs.”

Anderson lamented that the gangs’ gruesome grip on the community can be loosened with sustained intervention and policing activities that target the gangs and their resources and allies, while employing a clear, hold, build strategy.

“We police these communities every day and we are well aware that there are men, women and children who desperately need for us to build strong legitimate social structures that will keep the gangs and gangsters out of their neighbourhoods.”

Pointing to the existing ZOSOs in Mount Salem and Denham Town in West Kingston, Anderson said violent crimes have been “significantly reduced” within those communities. He further stated that communities where ZOSOs have been introduced continue to benefit from infrastructural and social development.

Further, Holness also noted that there were cries for intervention from Mount Salem residents in the past, which have dissipated. He credited this to the ZOSO that has been in effect in Mount Salem since September 2017.

“The overall intention in declaring an additional community in St James as a zone of special operations is to ensure that we can deliver social interventions leading to an improved living condition and quality of life for the citizens in that area, and to reduce the exposure of our children to various behaviours and the exposure of violence in the area which is self-sustaining in the creation of the problems that we are experiencing in the area,” he said.

“Norwood community, for the new zone of special operations…is an area of approximately one square kilometre. It has about 11, 800 residents. We have estimated that approximately 1,600 of those are males between 14 and 29. There are about 5,200 building structures in that community. The community is generally considered to have emerged in an unplanned way,” Holness added.

“It has issues such as lack of water, but the housing structures are generally of good stock and construction of concrete and houses workers mainly in the tourism sector. But you can see that in an area of approximately one square kilometre, with over 11,000 persons living there, with unplanned infrastructure, that there could be the levels of crime and violence that we’re experiencing in those areas.”

Holness said that the Government will continue to leverage this approach as a platform for developing and refining practices that promise “enduring, positive” results in improving citizens’ security and quality of life.

“The law allows for a coherent strategy utilising inter-ministerial and inter-agency coordination towards social transformation, with the aim that the people gain confidence in the security forces and trust the justice system so that a new culture of peace can emerge in a self-sustaining and permanent way.

“Ultimately, residents will own the peace, own the changes and take responsibility for their transformed community. We have seen the implementation of the clear, hold, build strategy and it has worked. We are examining what has worked best in the model and we’re currently reviewing the legislation to improve functionality and deployment.”

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang who was also speaking at the press conference, said the overall policy of the Government is to have effective and strong policing associated with transformative social investment in critical communities across the island.

“The zone of special operations will be used to restore public safety and good order in the very short term and provide a foundation in which we can initiate the kind of social investment required to effect the transformation that we need. It’s a peculiar community, because many of our very successful young people are from the area.

“But, on the other hand, we have some of the leadership of the criminal network emerging from this area, and the objective is to get in there and control the activity and ensure that the population can move around not only in order, but safely.”

The boundaries of the Norwood ZOSO, as outlined by JDF Force Executive Officer Commodore Antonette Wemyss-Gorman are:

north: along an imaginary line approximately 1,143 metres from East Alantic Drive to Rough Road at the eastern boundary;

south: along an imaginary line approximately 1,095 metres from the vegetated area vicinity at Mahogony Close and Pimento Drive to Hart Boulevard, Middle Road, and Top Road at the western boundary;

east: along an imaginary line approximately 450 metres from Rough Road to the vegetated area vicinity at Mahogony Close and Pimento Drive at the southern boundary; and

west: along an imaginary line approximately 1,127 metres from Hart Boulevard to East Alantic Drive at the northern boundary.

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