Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Patrae Rowe | The true state of the Jamaica Constabulary Force

Published:Tuesday | December 31, 2019 | 12:00 AMPatrae Rowe/Guest Columnist
Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson is leading the well-needed transformation and his vision is clear.
Patrae Rowe
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‘Tis the season to examine the work of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and cast blame on who is responsible for the high crime rate. We already predict that the popular scapegoat will be blamed once more – the police.

The intention of this article is not to be defensive or even speak about crime and the cause of it. As a Jamaican, I also have a vested interest in a peaceful and crime-free country. The perspective from which I speak is from within the Jamaica Constabulary Force and our readiness to effectively manage crime and what hinders us.

I hold the view that systems and cultures within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) continue to be a force against much needed results. Whilst the efforts of many of our officers are commendable, consistently so, there are worrying administrative and operational issues that have prevented us from truly being a Force for Good.

The Police Federation, by legislation, represents the interest of rank of file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Section 67 of the Constabulary Force Act states:

“For the purpose of enabling the Sub-Officers and Constables of the Force to consider and bring to the notice of the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security all matters affecting their general welfare and efficiency, there shall be established in accordance with the Second Schedule an organization to be called the Police Federation…”

Though with some restriction in further provisions, the Federation, since 1944, has been the voice that speaks publicly about issues affecting the members of the Force. Though traditionally the Federation was most vocal during salary negotiations, this executive seeks to act within the full interpretation of our scope and even so apply a more purposive interpretation to our Statutory Duty. Force efficiency is big on the Federation’s agenda and this is demonstrated through the Strategic Priorities heavily influenced by transformation. The Federation believes we are even more effective being proactive as we are reactive.

 

… Training and recruiting necessary to get results

 

The management of the human resources within the JCF gives life to efficiency issues and has become a major source of advocacy. Let us start with training.

Almost 15 years ago when I started my recruiting process, I was called to an interview and I appeared sharply attired with good intentions. I boldly proclaimed to the interviewers that I am joining the force because I love my country and I want to serve the people of Jamaica.

I was heartbroken that day as they laughed me to scorn and told me that they did not believe me because everybody who came before me said that. I was disappointed because I thought that was exactly the kind of patriotism that the Police Force needed.

There and then, that was the first thing I thought was wrong with the JCF; we discourage patriotism and pride in service and the desire to serve one’s country. The opposite may have very well been the objective, but the interviewers may not have been properly placed.

Though, in my years of service, I have recognized that my initial assessment is institutionalized and perpetuated by Government, most strikingly in how police officers who died after giving years of service are treated. There is very little regard for their service. Not even those of my colleagues killed in the line of duty are spoken of by Government or their funerals attended by Government officials, such an ungrateful country.

Back to the matter of training. For the transition to be made from civilians to police officers, much investment must be made in training.

Back in 2006 when I enlisted, my batch trained for almost eight months. Now civilians are being mass produced and the training reduced to only four months.

MUST RAISE STANDARDS

Recently, it was announced that mathematics would no longer be a requirement to join the Force. Let me hasten to say that the high command’s view is that the mathematics entry test was restructured to ensure that candidates have a good appreciation for the subject matter. This I find little comfort in.

I have been in spaces before and hear Jamaicans encourage unemployed youths who expressed frustration at trying to find employment to join the Police Force. As if when all else fails, try policing.

The elimination of mathematics and the ‘last option’ view of a number of Jamaicans mean that we are prepared to give one of our most important jobs to our least qualified people. A friend of mine retorted, “If you caah solve a maths problem, how you a go solve people problem?”

Like every other profession, mathematics is extremely important to policing. The value of the test of reasoning becomes so much more handy as a police officer. The major point is, though, that no organisation should have to reduce standards to attract people. People should raise their standards to attract good jobs. This is another problem with the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

It is my view that a student who goes to school and leaves with little or no subject is an indiscipline student. Of course, there are other reasons, but if my suggestion is true, when we reduce the qualifications we will not only attract incompetence, but we also attract indiscipline.

Policing and indiscipline are incongruous and a force of indiscipline members will lead to chaos. If we must get results, we must straighten training and recruiting.

 

… Antony Anderson is a good fit for Commissioner

 

We like to refer to Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police, as being new to the job, but after almost two years he is no longer new. After many interactions with the ex army man, it is my view that he is a good fit for Commissioner. He says the right things and has the right vision for the Force. He is leading the well needed transformation and his vision is clear.

Most impressive is the establishment of a Welfare Office to address well needed welfare concerns. Challenges that plagued us for years are being resolved quicker because of this single act. However, saying the right things is not enough. For any leader to succeed, those who he leads must buy into his vision. Therein lies the problem.

A lot of senior managers have not bought into the Commissioner’s vision for the Force and are on a frolic of their own. There are serious instances of mismanagement of human resources and abuse of rank and file members in many divisions. The lack of ingenuity and concern from a lot of our senior managers, in particular commanding officers, has left critical human resources worn and demotivated.

The propensity to make administrative functions and entitled benefits punitive continues to be a major issue within the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Transfers and leave are used by many senior managers as punishment. Denial of leave for no good reason and transferred to distant and unfavorable locations are the subject of frequent complaints from rank and file officers. The absence of proper leadership qualities and competence has been replaced by godlike and brutish exercise of authority from senior officers, in some instances. Commissioner Anderson has been handed some incompetent, inconsiderate and lazy subordinates who are aiding against his efforts.

The commissioner’s approach to members’ welfare and concerns are sometimes incongruent with some of his subordinates who are openly defiant. As a Police Federation, we have a duty, in the interest of Force, to efficiently highlight poor leadership to the Commissioner of Police, and going forward that we will do.

Unless some of these officers are retired in the public interest and replaced with officers with strong leadership qualities, we will continue to mismanage resources that effectively lead to a mismanagement of crime.

PROMOTION AN ISSUE

Officers being promoted outside of their scope are another issue that detains us.

Promotion is a sore point in the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The desire to be promoted reflects the aspiration of noble men who judge their professional successes by the occasions they move up in rank and take on new challenges. There is a culture in the JCF that has detained us and even the Government has failed to recognise it. The large majority of our members believe firmly that there are two major ways to secure increases in salary – that is salary negotiations or promotion.

On the latter option, too many of our members identify promotion as a means to do better financially. Promotion was never intended to be given for financial reasons. For an organisation to be successful, promotions must be the means by which people with demonstrable leadership qualities are elevated to contribute to the strategic direction of that organisation. Though promotion must be accompanied by the necessary remuneration, money is the secondary consideration in this regard.

Except for the money, a number of officers would prefer to remain at their current rank. What we must do is compensate an officer for his/her service.

Former executive member Woman Corporal Doris Stewart made this reference: she said that policing is a skill you get better at by doing it over and over. I agree with her.

There is no university that you can attend to master policing, therefore our greatest and most competent officers are those with service. We must now follow other jurisdictions and pattern their system of compensating service.

A police officer with ten years service should be deemed a veteran and the compensation be commensurate with service given. As a police force, we are losing significant institutional knowledge because of poor remuneration.

I must hasten to note that the bad officers are not leaving; we are losing our best to other countries. The JCF is changing fast and if we are not careful, we will trade experienced practitioners for inexperienced ones.

 

…Police officers are demotivated

 

Police officers are leaving because of a combination of factors. A constable at the lowest leave takes home $840,000 per annum for his basic pay – that is $70,000 per month. Without stating anything further, I am sure you have deduced the point.

Police officers are paying money for health insurance from their salaries. Many countries provide 100 per cent medical insurance for their officers.

Restricted resignation legislation, bureaucracy in processing pensions and other benefits, etc., are just some of the conditions of service that seeks to drain and demotivate our officers.

Conditions of work are another sore point.

Officers are working in rodent infested, old and dilapidated buildings. Though there is a schedule for repairs and unprecedented work is being done, there is still a grave concern. Lack of proper sanitary convenience is a feature of a lot of our facilities. We have been trumpeting the high death rate within the JCF and establishing a connection with poor condition of work and conditions of service.

Over the past year, 45 police officers died, the overwhelming majority due to lifestyle diseases. Something is fundamentally wrong with this figure and the Government has failed to agree. We have asked repeatedly for the Government to commission a study into this likely association. The consideration for employers’ liability cannot be weighted over the consideration for lives and health of police officers.

Commissioner Anderson has spoken openly about the plans to transform the Jamaica Constabulary Force and we welcome this well needed transformation. But transformation must not only be confined to infrastructure and systems, we must make equal efforts in transforming the minds of our people. The way we think has to be different.

If we will truly achieve Vision 2030, which is 10 years away, there must be active and real steps in that direction. Making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business cannot be achieved without the police. We must make this our personal goal.

If we must achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it cannot be done without the police.

Let us step up our efforts to make 2020 a year where strong foundations are built and serious efforts made towards addressing the issues that plague us. Until we fix our house, we cannot begin to look at fixing others. Transform from within to get results outside.

We are a #ForceForGood

 

- Patrae Rowe, LLB, A.Sc, is a Detective Sergeant in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and is the chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com