Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Garth Rattray | Military commish and no ‘military police’

Published:Monday | September 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It's ironic that our military-trained commissioner of police, Major General Antony Anderson, nixed the idea of giving police powers to the military. He called the measures 'drastic' and compared the differences between the police and military modus operandi to oil and water.

I used to disagree with that position and opined that some soldiers could be recruited by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), put through the complete training to become full-fledged officers of the law, and deployed to increase the police numbers. When necessary, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) would act as a reservoir for JCF recruits.

I've since learnt that the JDF and the JCF inculcation and training are extremely disparate. Police are supposed to apply the law and let the courts sort it out. But, soldiers are trained to apply force and let God sort it out. Their training is akin to imprinting and lasts a lifetime. Of course, there are individual exceptions.

Additionally, if soldiers are put in the capacity of policemen/women, the transition would be unsettling. Most soldiers lead relatively sheltered existences, where everything is provided for them in a stable environment and where the lower ranks' only responsibility is to obey orders. Additionally, soldiers are not peacekeepers. Ultimately, their training often requires the utilisation of deadly force. The mandatory itinerant lifestyle required of police officers would distress them. And, involvement in the civilian judicial system would boggle their minds.

Militarily trained personnel would, therefore, not transition well to policing citizens. As police officers, they would be of little use to society and, eventually, to themselves. The military's only applicable role is being part of joint task forces used intermittently under special, prescribed and limited circumstances.

Being trained by the military and placed in the position (I don't know if it's a rank or a post) of the commissioner of police is different from being assigned regular police duties because it is a planning and managerial role. The job is not totally alien to top military ranks because, for many years now, the army and police have been cooperating for the security of our country.

 

FAMILIARITY WITH INNER WORKINGS

 

The senior ranks attend command and strategic training together at the National Police College. They participate in joint training and planning operations and educational exercises on a regular and ongoing basis. They are, therefore, very familiar with the inner workings of each other's organisation.

When an outsider like General Anderson assumes command of the JCF, he is guided, given familiarisation tours, tutored in protocol and procedures, and briefed extensively. Organisations like the National Security Council, Police Service Commission, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, and the Independent Commission of Investigations also play their part in briefing and communicating with the commissioner of police.

General Anderson is very astute and has worked alongside the police throughout his professional life. Despite all that, I have serious problems with putting outsiders in the office of the commissioner of police. Outsiders need guidance from officers that were bypassed, have not served at various levels within the police force, can't empathise with the rank and file, can't fully appreciate their various challenges, and can't know the intricacies of policing. Only an insider with police roots can accurately portray the JCF.

Appointing an outsider wrongly intimates that, despite all the supervision, oversight, training and investment over many years, the police hierarchy is either incompetent or corrupt. This denigrates the entire organisation, undermines public confidence, and risks demotivating the rank and file.

In order to avoid future need for putting outsiders at the helm, senior police officers should undergo intensive, broad-based training, continuous and meticulous scrutiny and rigorous screening to prepare them for the top cop position.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.