Editorial | Divest police authority to private security firms
While the Holness administration grapples with the precipitous plunge in public order and homicides that has haunted Jamaica in the 21st century, it must chart new territory if it is to reshape policing.
It is common knowledge that besides being under-resourced in its forensic capacity, the Jamaica Constabulary Force does not have enough boots on the ground and wheels on the streets.
Manpower in the police force is in the range of 8,000-8,500, which makes it woefully short of its establishment complement of about 12,000-13,000. But the force loses about 500 personnel per year to retirement, resignation or termination, and its annual recruitment of perhaps 350 officers still leaves a net attrition loss of 150.
Jamaica's police-to-population ratio, at 317 per 100,000, lags behind comparable states such as Antigua and Barbuda, at 695 per 100,000; the Cayman Islands, 595; Trinidad and Tobago, 493; and Barbados, 489.
What makes those statistics even more galling is the fact that Jamaica suffers catastrophic levels of social dysfunction, symptomised by traffic chaos, a collapse in public order, and near-record levels of murder. The upshot: The country is careering towards full-blown anarchy.
Not only does the police force lack the numbers to patrol streets, investigate crime, and stand as a buffer against social fracture, its capability to respond to crises is hampered by an inadequate and damaged fleet. This dilemma has been played out in a dramatic fiasco with the maladministration of the purchase of pre-owned vehicles by the Government.
Even now, O'Brien's International Sales and Rentals has failed to fulfil the terms of its contract to supply 200 vehicles to the police as part of a multimillion-dollar arrangement. Approximately 30 have been delivered. While national security continues to be undermined, the contract is in limbo.
Yet opportunity beckons. Prime Minister Holness ought to consider divesting segments of Jamaica's law-enforcement superstructure to increase efficiency and significantly scale up the capacity of the police. This is not a novel idea, but its urgency has never been more apparent.
Jamaica's private security sector has a complement that is about 22,000 strong, according to the Private Security Regulation Authority, but the real numbers are estimated at some 6,000 more. Therefore, a cohort of 28,000 provides a ready pool from which to consolidate the public police force. Were even 15 per cent of this number recruited or retasked to public policing, the constabulary would have upwards of 13,000 active personnel.
The vast majority of traffic control could be privatised, thus freeing up more trained policemen to be redeployed to the investigation of serious crimes, like extortion, murder, rape, gunrunning, and drug trafficking. This model would also facilitate the beefing up of task forces targeting human trafficking and the dismantling of criminal gangs.
In light of the pandemonium that rules urban and semi-urban spaces, especially town squares and markets, we assess that traffic control and public order should be the primary concern of the private police. Private security firms, hungry for profit and less likely to accommodate leakage from corrupt agents on the ground, could be handed the carrot of a bonus, maybe a percentage of traffic fines, on deliverables to be decided by the State. The Government would be the beneficiary of ramped-up revenue and improved public order.
Mr Holness and his national security minister, Robert Montague, may even consider private police personnel, operating, effectively, as public law enforcement, in specific low-crime geographic zones, enabling hard-knuckle cops to combat killing machines and reclaim peace in violence-torn neighbourhoods.
The cynics will be quick to find a problem to every solution, but this newspaper believes that co-opting the private security sector, with its expansive outlay of manpower, fleets and technology, could play a game-changing role in cracking down on crime. A redefining of the constabulary would demand an intense retraining regimen and, perhaps, legislative support preferably at IMF speed.