Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Mark Ricketts | The saga continues with police and lawlessness

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Today marks the end of the year and it has not been a good one for the police and crime. Homicides will likely increase a whopping 25 per cent this year over last. As for the police, they are still mired in wage negotiations and morale is low.

In the latest proposed draft legislation as reported by The Gleaner's Arthur Hall, in 2018, as part of the Government's thinking to rebrand the JCF, there will be a focus on community policing and there will be a new authority to monitor the police. A name change is in the offing.

Sixteen hundred people will die this year, some from a new type of bullet which doctors describe as opening like a butterfly inside the victims and tearing apart their organs. As for the inflow of guns, we just got a peek into the scale, size, and kind of weaponry we are talking about when US customs officers, intercepting just one shipment, laid bare on an oversize table guns that would frighten most of us.

Yet, we go on without any real sense of urgency, even with more than 250 gangs in our tiny island, and over 3,000 reportedly involved in the pernicious lottery scamming with its by-product of death and mayhem. With the country's asinine bail policy, many out on bail continue with violent crimes, and with large tracks of no man's land in the inner cities, we are the Wild West as death stalks the land.

With all that's before us, our Government in its proposed legislation for a police makeover could not be taking seriously what should be its first order of business, namely, the safety and security of its citizens. The force already has more oversight bodies than others around the world, and while murders are barrelling away at an ever-increasing percentage every year, we are now proposing yet a new authority to monitor the JCF's performance.

On the point of the police embracing a community-policing philosophy, I don't know whether this is a public-relations stunt to emphasise an extremely soft side of policing, where nobody has to be afraid of the police, or if the framers of this draft legislation have no clue as to what takes place in the 19 geographical divisions of the JCF.

 

SOCIAL DYSFUNCTION

 

Let's take the West Kingston division, which covers the garrisons, Rose Town, Admiral Town, Trench Town, Arnett Gardens, Hannah Town, Tivoli, and Denham Town. Step into the Denham Town station on a Thursday and look at the scores of high-school students milling around with exercise books in hand showing the officers on duty their books with notes from the teachers summarising their week's performance. Listen to the children, who must give an explanation, as to why they are doing better or why they are showing no improvement.

Go on a Friday, and observe police connecting with the community on various corners. Watch sometimes as Superintendent Howard Chambers and his officers, decked out in their khaki uniforms, walk the streets to Coronation Market or to Admiral Town or Rose Town and observe the level of engagement with the people in the communities. With music and entertainment big in the area, go and see the 28-team football competition the police organise for which the winning team gets the Police Trophy.

But, there is social dysfunction in the area as well. There are gang wars, fight over turf, domestic violence. You hear the sounds of guns, the streets are hot, people are killed. Some police are afraid, some are daring, some get used to it.

A name change for a 150-year institution? Why? Do we think a name change will improve low morale when the police are grossly underpaid? When the force is short of cops? What of the lawlessness on the street where so many more police are needed? How will a name change improve the mobility of the force when the JCF is short 800 cars? Instead of a name change, shouldn't our current emphasis be on a sizeable budget allocation, and a modern police force with new tools and technologies and cross referencing of public data?

With an expanded role for the police and some new powers, how is that going to jive with an already case-overloaded criminal justice system?

In Jamaica, we like the drum roll. We like puff and pageantry. We have a fascination with the new or nearly new. We are not big on maintenance and making sure that what we have is properly taken care of.

Crime is serious and the safety and security of citizens should be the priority - facts which seem to have eluded the framers of the proposed draft legislation.

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