Mon | Jan 20, 2020

Hardley Lewin | A Jamaica Constabulary Defence Force?

Published:Wednesday | January 15, 2020 | 12:26 AM
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin
The presence of large numbers of soldiers on the streets patrolling and manning checkpoints is increasingly common.

There has been a steady deterioration of public safety in Jamaica over the past several decades. Over the same period, criminality has increased in sophistication and brutality and there seems to be no shortage of resources to fuel their deadly and dangerous activities.

Governments of Jamaica and the Jamaica Constabulary Force have sought to stem the rising tide of crime and particularly homicides, not by addressing root causes, but by coercive strategies delivered by special squads and renowned crime-fighters. The public has played its part by calling for and actually supporting these draconian measures to include harsher sentencing.

The get-tough-on-crime rhetoric and the measures implemented in pursuit of this narrative may have proven to be good politically, but, as a crime-control tool, they have not had the desired results.

So, we have witnessed a subtle but steady militarisation of the Constabulary as a part of the response; for example, the introduction of assault weapons and equipment, the maintenance of a hierarchical structure, and operations based on military deployment and tactics.

There is nothing wrong with these capabilities being embedded within specialised Special Weapons and Tactics teams who are highly trained to deal with the more difficult and dangerous missions, but a general militarisation of the Constabulary runs counter to the Force’s stated philosophy of policing; that is, Community-Based Policing. We cannot have it both ways.

The Government has introduced states public of emergency (SOEs), which, from all indications, to date is primary crime-fighting response and which are now about to commence their third year, with the promise of more to come.

This has seen the military take on public safety task themselves, which is one of two reasons given to justify the declaration of an SOE, the other being the authority to suspend habeas corpus. The presence of large numbers of soldiers on the streets patrolling and manning checkpoints is increasingly common. These responses have had broad public appeal regardless of their overall diminishing effectiveness, and all because of the fear of crime.

It could never be justified that you should have the military sit in barracks and not contribute to the overall crime-fighting effort, but exactly how, and in what ways they should contribute, is a matter for debate.


A protracted period of increasing military deployment in a public safety role and in the current operational posture and trajectory can only have the effect of a constabularisation of the military. What effect would this have on the military and its ability to effectively discharge its core function, if called upon to do so?

So, with the steady militarisation of the Constabulary and the potential constabularisation of the military, could we be wittingly or unwittingly headed down the road to that Jamaica Constabulary Defence Force? Do not laugh!

In 1998, the then leader of the Opposition, The Most Hon Edward Seaga, proposed the merger of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force into one Jamaica Constabulary Defence Force. This proposal was troubling.

Deploying the military is an easy decision and a low hurdle to execute, especially in circumstances where the civil police are viewed as corrupt and ineffective. In these circumstances, governments will tend to allocate increased resources toward military budgets to strengthen public safety, even if the civil police are in desperate need of such resources.

Constabularisation of the military can in part be a consequence of having an ineffective police service, one that is in desperate need of an overhaul. Should constabularisation be adopted as a policy, this could reduce the incentive for police transformation.

I look forward to the administration’s plans for the transformation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force into that kind of service that Jamaicans so desperately want to support. I do believe that the capacity exists to craft better and more cost-effective strategies and operational interventions that will make the best use of military support. To work, it will require greater cerebral application, sustained commitment, cooperation across party lines and keeping the public informed and engaged.

Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin is a former commissioner of police and former chief of staff of the Jamaica Defence Force. Email feedback to