Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Mark Ricketts | We must start with the police

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Mark Ricketts
Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Corporate Communications Unit and ZOSO police liaison.
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This is Part Four of a five-part series themed 'It is a disgrace how we treat the police'.

Recently, there has been more talk about new crime plans, but such talk must start with our police, as New York City discovered in the 1990s when homicides declined 56 per cent.

Denham Town has been remarkably quiet since the zone of special operations (ZOSO) got under way recently. The advantage of ZOSO is the blanketing of an area with soldiers and police.

Hannah Town, like Denham Town, falls within the West Kingston Police Division and has now secured ZOSO status, so it, too, will enjoy adequate policing. The importance of having the right number of police in place, along with efforts to empower them, proved successful in New York City.

In 1990, that city, with a population of 7.3 million, had 2,262 murders, a record not yet broken by any US city. This year, Jamaica, with 2.7 million, will likely have 1,700 murders.

For decades, up to the 1990s, the Big Apple was characterised by high-level criminality, with mafia dons, extortion rackets, revenge killings, drug running, murders, rape, and assault. Lawlessness was everywhere. There were panhandlers, drunks, thieves, and everybody had a need, everybody had a justification, a youth to feed, a mother to maintain, a drug habit to sustain. They were seen as parts of a world of uncontrollable predators.

Over the years, the city implemented various crime plans and initiatives to deal with public disorder and violent crimes. In 1990, newly elected mayor David Dinkins and his successor four years later, Rudy Giuliani, emphasised effective policing, which requires, among other things, the right police-to-population ratio. Police can't fight crime, and lawlessness, and disorder, if they are undermanned, so the mayors added 11,800 cops.

They elevated the prestige and morale of the police who were empowered by appropriate legislation, and the police were pushed into believability with a zero-tolerance policy.

For the cops, a rebranded NYPD truly encapsulated a badge with honour, and power legitimated by authority.

With Jamaica's similar levels of disorder, lawlessness, and violent crimes, New York City might be a good road map to follow, especially in the areas of police size and empowerment. Also to be factored are the many issues and challenges the police face in Jamaica.

 

SHORT STAFFED

 

The JCF, with 11,233 officers, is 3,000 short. Making matters worse is the high attrition rate. People leaving in droves negatively affect the entire force, and it takes time for new recruits to come up to speed. The police receive a fixed wage for over time, irrespective of hours worked, but more hours are being tacked on because of staff shortage.

A sore subject is remuneration. A commanding officer admitted that remuneration is really bad and a big disincentive, and when he listens to the complaints of his staff, what is demoralising is the combination of low pay; long hours; the inherent dangers of the job; lack of timely promotions; and not enough uniforms to avoid a lot of overnight washing - given the JCF's strict dress code policy. The constant criticism from the public hurts, as it implies the police are worthless, corrupt, brutal, and classless. They feel they have no support from any segment of society.

That was borne out in a TVJ newscast last week when insensitivity on the part of the police to a mother trumped inattention on the part of a school to her son.

After that came news of police killings in different locations. Neighbourhood residents were out proclaiming those killed were innocent.

Next was the minister of justice, Delroy Chuck, speaking before justices of the peace. While acknowledging that the police have the right to own vehicles, he admonished them for actions he attributed to what "people say": that bad driving and lawlessness on the street are committed by the operators of taxis and minibuses owned by policemen who are not prepared to arrest their own.

There are two things I find objectionable in Minister Chuck's comments. First, his condemnation of the police from a public platform on the basis of what people say converges with the society's narrative and reinforces aggression and an ongoing lack of respect for the police. The minister knows beating up on the police is immensely popular, irrespective of its effect in damaging police authority. He has to realise that aggression and outrage by the public undermine respectability and can morph into criminality with minor prodding.

Second, when I drive around the island, lawlessness is everywhere. The police would have to own thousands of motorbikes, trucks, cars, legal taxis, 'robots' and minibuses in order to facilitate the widespread indiscipline on our roads. Our laws are outdated, and there is no cross-referencing of data for drivers, so some are saved by amnesty, while others drive around with hundreds of infractions.

 

QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER

 

Ministers can rail against the police, as Robert Montague did when he publicly admonished the JCF, and, by inference, the police commissioner, for promoting persons of "questionable character", although they went through a rigorous selection process. Differences can be reconciled in private.

When New York City recognised the magnitude of its crime problem, it increased the budget, hired the cops needed, and dealt with the pressing issues and challenges facing the force.

When Jamaica recognised the magnitude of its crime problem, it decreased in April its annual budget allocation to the Ministry of National Security. Now, everyone blames the undermanned, underfunded, under-resourced, technologically ill-equipped JCF for ineptitude and corruption.

As attorney-at-law Peter Champagnie says, "The police must be provided with greater resources to help them investigate crimes. They are handicapped by the lack of critical tools. Just imagine there is only one laboratory for forensics in the entire island."

What is really frightening is that there are so many issues and challenges facing the police, and with our country's homicide rate out of control, and lawlessness a hair's breadth away from anarchy, the Government has recently mandated that the police must be enslaved by giving six months' notice before they resign.

Now the police, who are the only line of defence between the citizen and the criminal, are offered a demoralising pay increase on their despicable wages. Yet there is no outcry from the PSOJ, the Chamber of Commerce, the JMA, the JHTA. How are we going to transform our society when penny-pinching wages to so many segments of our society are the norm, something Sagicor Chairman Richard Byles noted in reference to the tourism sector?

It would be nice if the prime minister would say to the nation, with crimes up 27 per cent over last year, I have instructed my Government to have a modern, properly funded, and properly staffed police force. Instead, we treat our police poorly, and the private and public sectors will keep talking about police corruption and the need for new crime plans rather than empowering the police.

It's not the police why we have one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay reminds us: "Every minute of the day, there is a police officer somewhere in Jamaica creating public value, either preventing a crime, saving a life, or engaging the community."

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.