Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Editorial | Kudos to the police, but …

Published:Wednesday | September 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM

With all the work to widen thoroughfares and redevelop infrastructure taking place across Jamaica's capital, there was, understandably, great fear of traffic gridlocks accompanying the start of the new school year. That hasn't happened, which, we hope, continues.

We take this absence of chaos as further evidence that, rather than the anarchy often associated with Kingston and Jamaica's other towns and city, order can be imposed in the public spaces of the island's urban centres. What, though, is clear is that the preservation of public order, over the long term, demands resources, planning and will on the part of the authorities to impose and maintain what, for a time, some will cast as tough, uncaring actions.

There are few who will question that, despite significant pockets of development in recent decades, large swathes of the Greater Kingston region have grown shambolic. Beyond crumbling infrastructure in spreading urban blight, hucksters command sidewalks with rude stalls and lean-tos, from which they peddle all manner of goods. In some cases, as in Half-Way Tree, the commandeering of walkways carries the imprimatur of city officials, with booths branded by corporate titans that have grown grimy and tattered.

This sense of untidy topsy-turvy is exaggerated and, indeed, exacerbated by the seeming free-for-all of motorists, especially the operators of public passenger vehicles, who often appear to exist apart from any restraint of the traffic code, in open defiance of law enforcement. They, in daredevil fashion, overtake long lines of traffic, driving on the wrong side of road, and, not infrequently, by mounting pavements, to the danger of pedestrians.

That didn't happen this week, at least not on the major routes. Even on the roads that, because of the construction work, are unpaved and with fewer lanes, traffic flowed relatively smoothly.

The difference this week, thus far, has been effective policing. Along roadways and at most intersections, police, supported by soldiers, monitored and directed the flow of traffic. Their presence, of itself, encouraged order on the part of motorists and pedestrians alike. People felt constrained to do the right thing.

For this, the police chief, Major General Antony Anderson, on the job for nearly half a year, deserves congratulations and, for now, claim vindication for his declaration that his past silence was because he was busy at work planning initiatives such as this one. General Anderson, of course, would know that we have been on this road before - short, energetic stints at public-order maintenance by the police, which soon lapses because of manpower.

The difference, in this case, General Anderson will no doubt argue, is his new, 700-member Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, formed from the merger of the police's traffic and highway patrol and motorised patrol divisions. Importantly, this formation will mostly travel on neon-coloured motorcycles, giving them greater visibility, allowing them to easily traverse the city's thick traffic. A few helicopters would enhance their manoeuvrability and monitoring capability.

 

SUSTAINABILITY ISSUE

 

While this formation will likely improve the police's ability to maintain order in public spaces, General Anderson still has a sustainability issue. He just doesn't have sufficient staff to efficiently do all the things required of the constabulary. Of an establishment of just over 14,000, the constabulary is short by more than 2,000 members. Jamaica, with one of the world's highest homicide rates, of more than 50 per 100,000, has around 520 police for every 100,000 citizens. In Grenada, the comparative number is 850/100,000, while in St Lucia, they have more than 40 police officers for each 100,000 citizens than does Jamaica. In Antigua and Barbuda, there is a police officer for every 137 citizens. In Jamaica, the ratio of citizens to police is nearly twice Antigua's.

The bottom line: Along with other projects, Jamaica has to rapidly increase the size of its police force.