Editorial | Critical gaps in policing
The Jamaica Constabulary Force lacks the manpower, mobility and other resources to effectively police Jamaica and meets its public-safety challenges. That is a fact.
It has been reported, and not contradicted, that at any given time, less than half the establishment is available to police neighbourhoods and deal with crime and violence issues in a country where illegality occurs with alarming regularity. Police are absent from duty because of interdiction, vacation and study leave, illness and undertaking assignments that have nothing to do with detecting and prosecuting crime. So how can these critical gaps in policing be filled?
It is not hard to imagine that some areas of policing will be neglected in those circumstances. The enforcement of the Litter Act, for example, appears to be very low among the priorities of the undermanned police force. The perils of the lack of enforcement were brought forcibly home to citizens of Montego Bay last week when mounds of garbage, including used condoms and human waste, clogged drains and caused flooding during heavy rains associated with a weather system that evolved into Hurricane Earl.
PROPER WASTE MANAGEMENT
For sure, citizens would welcome greater police presence in the South Gully area if that meant less garbage would be dumped there. And even though there is talk of increasing the fine from the current $2,000, it will have minimal effect if there is no enforcement. The law is not a deterrent on its own; proper waste management must be practised by all.
This is why Malik Qasim, an executive at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust, has suggested that environmental wardens be given powers of arrest. This suggestion ought not to be dismissed out of hand. Many years of talk about proper garbage disposal has not created the desired awareness about the impact of littering on the environment and the community. Jamaica remains swamped in garbage.
At the very least, however, persons who litter public spaces ought to be ticketed and justice should be swift. Could it be that the police it is a waste of time to prosecute litterbugs?
Escalating criminal activity has prompted strong calls for immediate solutions to Jamaica's crime problem. Many of those searching for answers have accepted that keeping our neighbourhoods safer is not a task for the police alone. We have even heard the call for divine intervention, as well as an exhortation for persons to become the eyes and ears of the police in their communities.
All of this suggests that there is now an understanding that there is a huge role for ordinary citizens to play in detecting, reporting and even warding off crime. The near-defunct Neighbourhood Watch Programme was designed to provide a presence in areas where the police are not deployed. But they were on the alert to contact the police and provide information. This programme should be resuscitated as we seek to make communities safer.
Even though many criminal investigations often begin with a tip from citizens, there is lingering mistrust of the police, which has deterred some people who would otherwise be coopted in the fight for justice. The police have work to do to strengthen the partnership with citizens by empowering them to report suspicious circumstances or unusual activities in their neighbourhoods.
If we want to keep Jamaica beautiful, it is the citizens who will have to do something about it. Waiting for the police to enforce anti-litter laws is not guaranteed to yield positive outcomes. The image of Montego Bay, our tourism mecca, has taken a battering for its poor treatment of garbage. It's the citizens who must change the face of the city.