Editorial | Great possibilities in training cops at Mona
The agreement signed last week by the Government at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona for the training of police personnel is, on the face of it, a good thing. The aim, insofar as we understand the public declarations, is to accelerate a build-up of the numbers in the constabulary to counter a high rate of attrition.
Maybe it is that not all has been explained, or that it has not been explained as well as it might have been. But we believe that the ideals of this partnership ought to have been - and can still be - higher.
The move to expand the police force is as understandable as it is right. Jamaica has one of the world's worst crime problems. Though still lower than seven years ago, Jamaica has more than 1,300 homicides a year, which translates to around 50 murders for every 100,000 people living on the island. That murder rate used to be above 60 - a figure the country appears to be on an inexorable march to regain, given the 20 per cent hike a year in homicides over the past two years, which it is on its way to surpass in 2017.
But even with its top-three ranking in the global league table for per-capita homicides, the size of Jamaica's police force has not kept pace with other high-crime countries, especially in the Caribbean. At last week's signing ceremony at Mona, Clifford Blake, a deputy commissioner of police, explained that the constabulary is supposed to have 14,092 members, which, at Jamaica's current population, would be 516 per 100,000 of population. However, the size of the force currently is 11,433, or approximately 419 per 100,000. Put another way, the constabulary is 2,659 members short, or almost 20 per cent below its optimum.
By comparison, The Bahamas, with a population of under a million people, has, on a per-capita basis, a police force that is significantly larger than Jamaica's - at nearly 850 members for each 100,000 residents, while in Antigua and Barbuda, whose population is around 100,000, the ratio is over 730/100,000. In Grenada, that ratio is nearly 820/100,000, while the comparative figure for St Lucia is nearly 560/100,000.
In orderly, low-crime and economically advanced Singapore, which policymakers and public commentators often hold up as a model to which Jamaica should aspire, they have more than 750 police officers for every 100,000 residents.
HIGH ATTRITION RATE
Part of Jamaica's problem, according Mr Blake, is that it can't keep its police officers; it has a high rate of attrition. For instance, last year, the Jamaica Constabulary Force took in 495 members, but 544 left. That is a negative net retention of hiring to exits of 10 per cent. This, in part, has to do with conditions of service, including low pay, the bad physical environment, and the problem of corruption that drives managers to throw out some members.
The attrition rate also has to do with the image with which corruption, paramilitary jackbootedness and resistance to change tar the constabulary. Very few people perceive policing as a viable, long-term and respectable career.
The suggestion last week was that the agreement with the UWI would allow more police recruits - 3,000 during the period - to be trained over the next three years than would have been the case if the concentration remained at the constabulary's training school at Twickenham Park, St Catherine. Nothing, though, was said about what will happen at the old school or about the curriculum to be used at Mona.
We do not expect that the normal curriculum will be abandoned during the six-month police course. However, a university, with the various faculties and departments, such as exist at Mona, potentially expand the learning opportunities. Hopefully, this is part of the plan, and will be so utilised, in the existing arrangement. The result: better police personnel.