Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Editorial | More police welcome, but …

Published:Monday | September 9, 2019 | 12:25 AM

It is good news that the Government has now articulated it as policy to substantially increase the size of the constabulary and appears to have a strategy to deliver on that undertaking over the next four or five years. Indeed, it is a cause for which this newspaper has long campaigned.

However, even as the Government moves ahead with the project, there is need for clarity on the numbers with which it is working, including what relates to replacement for the natural, or management-enforced, attrition in the police force, as opposed to a genuine increase in its establishment.

At the same time, there ought to be discussions about what, if any, transformative impact this programme will have on the constabulary. In other words, is the move also intended to deliver a police force that is less corrupt and in which Jamaicans can have confidence?

Last week, the national security minister, Dr Horace Chang, told the Observer newspaper of his plans to add 4,000 officers for regular policing duties within three years, and soon thereafter another 2,000 members for special squads and investigative agencies. While it isn’t the first time the Government has spoken about increasing police numbers, it hasn’t in the past been this specific in terms of numbers and time frame.

By Dr Chang’s reckoning, there are around 12,000 current members of the constabulary, which isn’t far off the 11,790 who the police chief, Major General Antony Anderson, last month told this newspaper were on the payroll. Roughly, therefore, the new hires would, by 2022, mean a one-third increase in the size of the police force to 16,000, before jumping to 18,000 by around 2024, which means that by then, Jamaica will have 50 per cent more police officers than it does today. All things being equal, that would translate to around 643 police officers for every 100,000 citizens as against under 430/100,000 at present.

But even then, Jamaica, with more than 1,200 murders annually and a homicide rate heading towards 50 per 100,000 citizens, would still have fewer police per citizen than its Caribbean neighbours, who have a less serious crime problem. For instance, Antigua and Barbuda has 730 police per 100,000. The ratio jumps to 820/100,000 in Grenada and 850/100,000 in The Bahamas. St Lucia, which has 560 police per 100,000 population, or around 30 per cent more than Jamaica, would be one of the few Caribbean countries whose police-to-citizen ratio would have fallen below Jamaica’s.

Police numbers a crime deterrent

These numbers are important. For, as we have argued before, and as the concentration of police and soldiers in some communities under states of public emergency have borne out, the physical presence of members of the security forces is a deterrent to crime. The fact, though, is that Jamaica has not had enough to go around. Which raises questions about the foundation of the analysis upon which Minister Chang and General Anderson base their numbers.

Insofar as General Anderson and high senior officers noted at last month’s forum with The Gleaner, the establishment of the Jamaica Constabulary Force is 14,000. So, with 12,000 members, the JCF is currently undermanned by 14 per cent, which is the breach that is first to be filled, and the starting point for deeper analysis of the projected size of the constabulary.

For instance, if it was to that base of 14,000 that an additional 6,000 police officers were added by 2024, it would result in a constabulary of 20,000 members, or around 715 police for every 100,000 citizens. That would be 11 per cent higher than the currently projected ratio but still below what now exists in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and The Bahamas.

Clearly, increasing the complement of the constabulary is important, but it can’t be an end in itself. The quality of the recruits and the integrity of the organisation which they join will also be significant. Jamaica’s police force is notorious for its corruption and its capacity to entangle new members. Minister Chang and Commissioner Anderson need to assure Jamaicans that this initiative won’t be merely continuing the old cycle.