Mark Shields | 10-point plan for next commissioner of police
I wrote to this newspaper on October 12, 2016 in response to Professor Anthony Clayton's article titled 'Wasting millions - Professor: Weak management leading to huge financial losses in police force' (Gleaner, Wednesday, October 12, 2016).
In that piece, Professor Clayton wrote that during a review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) resources, "members of the review team were surprised by the pushback from members of the JCF seeking to frustrate the reform process".
In my letter supporting Professor Clayton's view, I wrote that I did not find the pushback surprising because, despite the work of some excellent police officers, resistance to improvement and reform in the JCF is not a new problem.
Over the last two decades, many millions of US dollars have been donated by the taxpayers of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to help Jamaica modernise the JCF. They have sent police officers, consultants, cash, equipment, provided training and many other resources.
However, there remains a deep-rooted culture in the JCF that resists all interventions, no matter how helpful. It takes the form of the belief that 'we are the only people who understand policing in Jamaica', and 'good or bad, we look after each other'.
Given the pressures that the JCF is under, this attitude is understandable. But it is this same attitude that is now preventing proper policing and allowing the country to go to ruin.
We have just - yet again - started the weary process of looking for yet another commissioner. Whoever can be persuaded to take the post will inherit all the same problems that faced the last half-dozen commissioners.
We do not need another strategic review. There have already been a number of strategic reviews. Professor Clayton's 2015 Organisational Review of the JCF is particularly useful. It lists all the serious problems that afflict the JCF, sets out the solutions with clarity, and provides a good basis for fixing the force. The problem is that few of these reviews, reports and recommendations have been properly implemented.
Surely, it is now clear to everyone that sacrificing a commissioner of police every couple of years will never, and can never, solve the problems with crime, corruption and violence in Jamaica. The force needs fundamental change in its organisational structure, a significant increase in its budget, and proper reforms of its operations. Without that, nothing will change, and the revolving door leading to the Office of the Commissioner of Police will continue to spin.
We must break out of this pattern of guaranteed failure. So I would like to offer my 10-point plan to anyone thinking about applying for the toughest job in Jamaica.
1. Immediately introduce high-visibility policing on every major road intersection and in every crime hotspot. Make people feel safe by taking back the streets of Jamaica from the criminals and antisocial elements who can now break every law without any fear of being held accountable.
Redeploy every able-bodied police officer who currently sits behind a desk and put them out in the high-crime areas. Fill the administrative desk jobs with suitably qualified members of the civil service who do not require operational policing skills or the powers of a police officer.
Make police managers lead by example and manage their staff. There is no place for desk-bound senior officers; they should be on the streets, providing visible leadership to their subordinates. If they are unwilling to lead from the front, the new commissioner must find real leaders who are prepared to take up the challenge.
2. The phrase 'zero tolerance' has become a cliche, but it is still true. The new commissioner must ensure that every infraction is challenged and, where necessary, prosecuted. Every Jamaican and visitor to Jamaica must see that if you break the law, there will be swift and severe consequences.
3. Establish permanent police checkpoints at strategic points on every major road leading into large towns and cities in Jamaica. Equip them with CCTV and an automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) system. Support this with well-trained teams conducting mobile stop-and-search checkpoints with officers with body cameras, equipped to search for firearms and other contraband. Create a policing environment where criminals constantly feel vulnerable and law-abiding citizens feel safe.
4. Within the first month, interview every senior officer and make an assessment on whether they are fit for purpose. Make the tough decisions early. Focus on building a strong, trustworthy and reliable top team. Send the message that police officers must either perform or leave. Any officer who cannot perform, is incompetent, linked to corruption or in any other way is not fit for purpose should be rapidly retired in the public interest.
5. Immediately start the process of developing the strategic skills of 10 high-potential police officers. Form partnerships with police services in Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. Send the future leaders on six-month secondments abroad. This will build up a strong pool of talented officers, any of whom could be the next commissioner.
6. Maximise the use of technology, rebuild the intelligence capacity of the JCF, and focus on intelligence-led policing. Re-establish daily crime hotspot operational meetings chaired by a senior officer to drive the response to tackle any immediate crime threats. Use secure video-conference facilities, and don't make your senior officers waste thousands of hours travelling to and from meetings at the commissioner's office.
7. Rebuild the JCF Murder Investigations Teams (MIT). In the last 10 years, the capacity to investigate murders has been all but dismantled - and the results can be seen in the carnage on the streets. Immediately start the process of recruiting, training and equipping detectives, and establish MITs in St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon, St James, and Westmoreland and Hanover.
8. Establish a DNA strategy. Take every opportunity to link criminals to their crimes by using DNA evidence. Take a DNA swab from every person arrested for a legally justifiable offence, and compare this DNA sample with the thousands of unidentified samples taken from crime scenes. Make the results of this work public so that criminals see that they can no longer hide.
9. Build the JCF's capacity to use intelligence to target the gangs. Establish dedicated proactive gang teams in every division, with strong links to the people engaged in social intervention and community work. Look at the successful anti-gang strategies developed in Glasgow, London, Boston and other cities, and develop equally effective tactics for Jamaica.
10. Recruit a team of experienced advisers and senior police officers from other police services to work with the top team in the JCF. Their goal should be to ensure that these ten priorities become embedded into the JCF's operational and cultural fabric.
The JCF has long been resistant to change, and reluctant to accept external support. The international partners are growing weary of the pattern of failure and increasingly reluctant to throw yet more resources at a failing force. However, all of this could still be put right.
The USA, UK, Canada and EU could still be persuaded to muster one last effort to support change. With a talented, forceful new commissioner, an outstanding top team, and a binding commitment to deliver far better outcomes for Jamaica, our allies will step up and give us the support we need.
Let us hope that the next commissioner has the skills, courage, resilience and charisma to implement this plan. Let's all give that commissioner our support.
- Mark Shields is a security consultant and former deputy police commissioner. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.