Police ‘a serve and protect’, say Denham Town residents

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Only a year and some months have passed since the security forces planted their presence in the violent west Kingston neighbourhood of Denham Town after it was made a Zone of Special Operation (ZOSO) in 2017, and according to some residents, an air of safety and security has since descended upon their community.

Assistant Superintendent of Police, St George Jackson told the Jamaica Observer during a tour of sections of the community last week that several transformational initiatives have taken place and are ongoing in the community.

The transformation, he explained, is in line with the ZOSO modus operandi: clear, hold and build. And currently he said the security forces are now in the building phase.

“A number of transformation activities have taken place. Looking at crime first, we had a number of violent incidents here before the ZOSO operation commenced the 17th of October 2017. Since then we have progressed in terms of getting closer to the people and understanding the conflicts inside here and how to manage them.”

Superintendent Jackson said the social interventions are supported by external agencies such as Restorative Justice and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), along with a committee that manages the provisions of the conceptual arrangement of ZOSO.

“…which is clear, hold and build. And now that we are in the build phase, we see that the people are getting a little more accommodating of law enforcement. Our method was very simple — give respect to the people, ensure that we listen to what they have to say, have a zero-tolerance approach to offences, but at all time remain courteous to members. Since that has happened and you find that we have a greater relationship with the people and a better handling of crime.”

During the tour, residents living on Metcalfe Street in the community told the Sunday Observer that ZOSO is working.

“We feel much safer since di ZOSO. The police dem a serve and dem a protect,” said one shopkeeper who gave her name as Nikki Foster.

She explained that not only does she feel safer, but that the children and young people in the community have been especially engaged by the security forces in various activities and opportunities. Referring to some of the officers, the woman said:

“Uncle Steve and Uncle Linton, dem show love to the kids them. And we thankful for the ZOSO because we a get good protection and dem a serve, and dem love us. It’s not about what they can give, but their love and affection for the kids and the people in the community.

Another resident who asked to be called Suzette had similar sentiments.

“Dem take care a dem [children], help we with them go to school, give dem lunch money, dem help wid dem book, shoes, everything. We don’t want dem leave. We don’t want di ZOSO fi left, we want dem stay. Dem mek we feel safe inna we community. We wouldn’t mind if the state of emergency come back. We love dem, we nuh want dem leave.”

Superintendent of Police Steve Brown explained that the nature of the social intervention has made it so that residents now interact with the police on a Christian name basis.

“Once you work in the community, you become a part of the community. And the type of interaction we have with them, they’re going to call us Uncle Steve and so on. The youngsters on the street side, we interact with them, we interface with them. Sometimes, we take them out, talk with them and I just think that makes a big difference. That makes them feel happy, it makes them feel wanted.

“And to be frank with you, some of these kids are very talented. They have tremendous talent and tremendous ability. People talk about the condition that these kids live under, there is no condition, it might not be the best in the world, but at the same time, they make use of the condition that they are living in.

“The English Premier League is going on and we support various teams. If my team should lose, you find them at the gate waylaying me just to have fun, and if their team should lose, I drive and look for them. So sometimes we have some friendly banter inside here.

“We had a good competition here last week — a football competition and the entire community turns out. Sometimes we have football competition and the entire community turned out for that. So when you have stuff here the community will turn out,” Brown said.

The two female residents also showered praise on the skills training and job placement opportunities that have been initiated through the HEART Trust National Training Agency.

“The HEART courses begin Monday gone, and between the ages of 17-30, and they are going to school, doing level 1 and level 2 in various areas. And they are getting paid to go to school. They are going for six months, and at the end of it they getting a level 1 and level 2 certificate,” Foster said.

“Since di ZOSO come, whole heap a young youth on di corner attending school now over di community centre. You have every likkle programme and di young yute dem a take part inna dem.

“I am 40 years old and when I was going to school, I didn’t get pay to go to school. And now these young girls and young guys are getting paid to go to school. Andrew Holness is doing a very good job. Di young men and girls dem going to school,” said Suzette.

Superintendent Jackson said that the HEART courses form part of an initiative led by the Social Intervention Committees and involves identifying persons who have certain skills but are not certified to be employed within the field.

“It is critical to put them to a point of employment to certify them within those areas. Those persons who have the intention of becoming something within society would have been assisted within their desired career path and would have been trained and certified in that aspect.

“There are other persons who would have fallen out of school without subjects, City Guild and HEART/Trust NTA have come in to engage them to see how best they can move them from where they are to a basic education, and the people are embracing it,” said Jackson.

The primary enterprises of shopkeeping and vending in the community have also benefited from the new found peace and order. Two business operators say they have been reaping the benefits.

“I’m a business owner, running a likkle shop and since di ZOSO come, it a gwaan good. Mi can open as late as mi want. So mi glad and happy when di ZOSO is here”, said one resident

Another businessman, Orville Goldson, who operates a mobile jerk pan in the community, explained that he’s been living in Denham Town for 10 years and has never seen a time when he felt safe to travel across community border lines to sell his jerk chicken.

“Mi jerk gizzard, chicken neck and dem ting deh and since the police dem come here, dem a gwaan good inna di community. Dem make mi can go out and make likkle money yah now. One time mi would have fi run go in early, nuttn never really a gwaan. I couldn’t even go over there so go sell nuttin. But since dem come yah, mi a eat a likkle food.

“The pickney dem can go school and everything. See me all a build mi likkle shop fi sell mi likkle bleach product and dem ting deh,” said Goldson.

Meanwhile, another resident, Garfield Bailey, said he wants the security forces to issue more dance permits to bring back some “vibe” in the community.

“We want likkle party inna West Kingston fi enjoyment fi di people dem. If ZOSO can give them that, it would a more better fi dem and dem pay a likkle fee same way too. Them give them a one or two party, but not all di time. Enjoyment haffi gwaan inna this world enuh. Without the dance a bare war a guh start back inna west Kingston.”

In the meantime, Superintendent Brown said the security forces will continue to be a buffer in the community, offering a response to the effectiveness to the soft versus hard approach to policing the space.

“It is a soft approach because it requires a soft approach. If there is a need for hard policing, we do hard policing.

“The enhanced security measure which replaced the state of emergency it’s here and it should stay because frankly speaking, we don’t even hear gun shots down here anymore, because one of the things the people will tell you is that we are strategically placed all over the community. We’re here and we sincerely hope that we can continue to make an impact in the community. The residents see a different side of the police and they will tell you that they are happy that the ZOSO is here,” Brown said.

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