Sat | Jan 25, 2020

Orville Taylor | Police; not Po least, please

Published:Sunday | January 12, 2020 | 12:57 AM

If we are quibbling about whether the homicide rate in 2019 was significantly more than 2018 because of the 40-plus more, or that the decade of 2010 to 2019 had fewer people murdered than the period 2000 to 2009, then this demonstrates just how short-sighted we have been in this fight against crime and violence in Jamaica.

In real terms, there is no qualitative difference between 1,200 and 1,400 Jamaicans being maliciously killed by their peers. Worse, Jamaica seems bent on distinguishing itself as the most homicidal English-speaking country in the world, despite globally homicides steadily decreasing by around 20 per cent since 1990.

Last week, I made the point that five and 15 per cent increases do not make any difference. Of course, I was speaking about the rates of pay for police officers, but the same myopia exists here. Unlike many naysayers, including some members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), I have never and still do not doubt its capacity to handle the monster.

Despite lots of servants of the House of Babylon departing at a faster rate than they are being replaced, there is a core of hard-working dedicated ones, who are keeping the ship afloat. Indeed, lots of good ones are leaving and this is due to myriad factors. However, over the years when I had to rubbish the myth that Jamaican cops go largely unpunished for their misdeeds, I looked at internally generated data from the JCF. What is remarkable is that apart from the natural attrition caused by resignations and retirements, there were years when administrative reviews, disciplinary actions and refusal to re-enlist reached triple figures.

Let me state this unambiguously even at the risk of offending detractors. Most of the serving women and men in the JCF at all ranks are good, career-oriented professionals who are in it for the love and not the likes. This is true for the federated ranks as well as the officer corps, despite there being some red stripes who we can’t bear and big khaki suits who need to jump on a horse and ride slowly out of town.

This is the same JCF, described by some of my colleagues as ‘toxic’ where the majority of Jamaicans believe the members to be corrupt. Yet only 12 per cent of Jamaicans report having any first- or second-hand knowledge of any officer stretching for ‘blessing to fall on the right hand’.

My faith in the Constabulary is not misplaced. True, in these states of public emergency (SOPE), which the government drops on us from time to time, we have ‘soldresses’ and soldiers backing up the cops. But soldiers are war fighters; not crime-fighters. With the exception of a small cadre of personnel from military intelligence, soldiers do not know how to gather evidence. It is no accident that detectives from the JCF have procured and produced evidence which has led to successful prosecution of criminals.

Data from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) show that despite the grand narratives about most murders being unsolved, the majority of cases that it takes before the court end up in convictions. Believe it or not, inasmuch as the celebrity verdicts relating to Vybz Kartel, Ninjaman and now Tesha Miller might boost the morale of the cops and the DPP staff, the only reason that they are exceptional is the profile of the accused and nothing else.

I give no direct mandate to the police in terms of preventing murders. No policing can stop a woman from beating and torturing her male child, the future murderer. Even if the poor victims of stupid jealous men had policemen sitting on their laps, they could not prevent the ‘lover’ from killing them and himself afterwards.

There are certain antecedents to violence in this society, which we need to address and catch them early. As for the post-commitment, the majority of persons who carry out major crimes are known and oftentimes the police simply needs a bit more cooperation from witnesses to make the case tight like a fat man’s spangy pants.

POLICE NEED RESOURCES

Yet, as I said last week, the police need resources and better welfare and this must be the mantle of the political administration, the commissioner and certainly the Police Federation, whose soldiers are in the trenches.

There is no question that some of the derisive criticisms relating to the Force are just. However, we have a commissioner, who despite his awesome experience, brilliance and strength of character, is only just learning to be a police. He therefore needs an officer corps to share his vision. He cannot bypass them and get directly to the rank and file.

As an army officer coming from an ‘apartheid’ system between officers and non-commissioned officers and ‘other ranks’, he is fully aware that he succeeds or fails by having his brigadiers, colonels and majors ‘teaching’ him as well. The task is more difficult than one thinks, given that police officers are in fact civilians who dress like soldiers and are subject to civilian laws and civilian motivation.

Thus, if we want better from the JCF, we must give them the tools. This includes technology such as exists in metropolitan countries, which allows a mobile policeman to discover that the driver not only has two tickets, but he has also not paid child support and he has a warrant for peeing in public.

But I return to the topic of social protection. Police officers should never have to be taking buses with their ‘chargees’, renting small sides of houses from people who they don’t know how they bought them, be having benefit parties for their healthcare and be vulnerable to criminal elements because they retired.

I bet you that when the youngsters in their steel underwear get a clear vision that if they stay in the Force, they will not end up homeless, destitute and unqualified, we will see more of the good ones staying and even better arrest and conviction rates.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com