Thu | Sep 19, 2019

Editorial | Jamaica has too few police

Published:Monday | July 15, 2019 | 12:18 AM

Getting people to join the constabulary, according to the police commissioner, isn’t the problem. Getting them trained is. Existing facilities, says Major General Antony Anderson, are inadequate to handle the numbers.

We, however, would add another matter: the establishment of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF); that is, the number of members who, by law, the JCF can hire. That number is too small.

According to figures emerging from last week’s discussions between journalists from this newspaper and General Anderson and senior officers, Jamaica currently has 11,790 listed police, or 2,301 fewer than the JCF’s establishment. Expressed differently, the JCF has only around 84 per cent of its allowable manpower.

All things being equal, with 362 new enlistments, the constabulary might, last year, have lowered its shortfall in allowable members by 16 per cent. Except that 274 police left the force, for a net retention of 88, which was less than a quarter of the new recruits. The outflow may not have been such a bad thing if it meant an exodus of some of the rogues from a notoriously corrupt constabulary and allowed the recruitment of others of greater integrity.

There is a larger issue, though, that wasn’t addressed in General Anderson’s observations about the difficulties of training facilities and the innovations that have had to be employed to be able to prepare up to 1,000 police officers a year. At more than 47 per 100,000, Jamaica has one of the world’s worst homicides rates. Other categories of serious crime, too, are worryingly high. Violent gangs are numerous.

But as the deployments under recent states of emergency have demonstrated, a heavy concentration of security forces in communities is a deterrent to crime, including murders. Yet, at the current employment, Jamaica has around 432 police officers for every 100,000 citizens. If the force was at its full strength, the ratio would rise to 517 per 100,000. In other words, the number of police to citizens is 16 per cent below approved levels. This is exacerbated by the number of police who are tied to sedentary, administrative posts and who could be replaced by civilians, facilitating more boots on the ground.

Even if the constabulary was at its full establishment, Jamaica would still have fewer police per capita than most of its Caribbean neighbours. And they have less crime. For example, as we have noted in the past, St Lucia has around 560 police per 100,000. In Antigua and Barbuda, the ratio is 730/100,000, increasing to 820 per 100,000 in Grenada. In Jamaica’s neck of the wood, the northern Caribbean, the Bahamas has a ratio of 850/100,000.

REVIEW OF POLICE

The issue for policymakers, therefore, ought not to be only for General Anderson to innovate so as to be able to train enough police to make up the shortfall, and ensure replacement, at the constabulary’s current establishment. Rather, there must be a fundamental review of the number of police, taking into account Jamaica’s peculiar circumstances, as well as to at least bring the island in line with its Caribbean neighbours.

Or perhaps General Anderson can say whether he is satisfied with the establishment of the force and how that number fits into short-, medium- and long-term policing strategies. It would be useful, too, to hear the commissioner’s analysis of how the spin-off of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency as an independent entity will impact the JCF’s numbers, including if the constabulary will need to replace members lost to that new unit, whose remit isn’t community-level operations.