Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Mark Wignall | Never a good time for hard policing

Published:Thursday | February 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Reneto Adams

As another report of murders is made and rumours are spread via social media like Facebook, I find it most difficult to envy the man holding the post of minister of national security, Robert 'Bobby' Montague.

At each report, the minister is forced to own the political fallout while appealing to holistic solutions, a straddle that will become quite difficult to maintain. As he appeals to a nation's better side and begs us all to be voices and actors in working towards a solution, his sales pitch must be constantly lifted from the level of the one the week before. Stale presentations soon wear thin. Better public buy-in is always being sought and needed.

More troubling is that many discussions taking place at community level and in many uptown living rooms centre around the need for revisiting Reneto Adams-style policing like in the 'good old' days of the Crime Management Unit.

Although I publicly (through newspaper columns) castigated Adams's style of policing, in private with friends and colleagues, I sometimes took positions favourable to hard policing that were mostly spurred by new reports of vicious murders by dog-hearted killers.

When I eventually met SSP Adams at a delightful uptown cocktail party, we got along quite well, and according to him then, 'You have your job to do and I have mine. There is no problem'.

Without giving too much away, Adams understood the delicate social and class conflicts inherent in he being called on to lead a pushback demanded by seemingly one class against not just criminals, but an entire underclass.

If our memories serve us well, at the beginning of the 2000s when a rash of murders made their unwanted but regular visit to the island, a few well-known scions of big business made their voices heard and at least one even threatened to move his headquarters out of the country.




Prior to that, whenever violence broke out in urban, inner-city communities and I visited the various areas, one common observation I made was that as soon as a police vehicle entered a street or a lane all the young children of, say, seven and eight years old, hurriedly scrambled to their yards for safety.

What were they running from? Two things: the possibility of being caught in shoot-outs between gunmen and the police, and raw fear of the presence of the police. At the same time, many adults in those areas are always wrestling with themselves in their love/hate relationship with the police because of the difficulty of policing in those areas.

They want the police presence whenever there is turf war between gangs, but complain of maltreatment by the police when they show up. Much of the maltreatment part is fact, but it is always difficult to determine the embellished parts. Hard policing in 2017 which dealt with adult men in the 1990s will now be forced to deal with the battle-hardened grown-up kids who ran away at that time.

The case for hard policing is always standard inside the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) no matter what the official policy is towards an increase in 'community policing'. Murders which take place in depressed inner-city communities on the outskirts of tourist resorts of Montego Bay, or those in Kingston's west end, are strangely palatable to many who live on the brighter side of life, but once it touches, say, an area like Cherry Gardens, a sacred social law has been breached.

The difficulty that will always face the security minister and the leadership of the JCF is how to publicly 'sanitise' the conflicts that will arise between the police and irredeemable gunmen who insist they will not be taken in alive. The other difficulty is to continue to sell the JCF as an entity protective of the law-abiding while using quality detective work behind the scenes to solve the many murders bedevilling us.

The best window of opportunity we had for imposing a limited state of emergency was in the wake of the Tivoli incursion in May 2010. That window has been long closed. The fact is, once the police is given those added powers, the focal points of police violence are always in the depressed inner-city communities where mothers and aunts are always going to protect their grown boys, innocent or not.