Editorial | Say more about police recruitment plan
Lloyd Distant’s revelation, a week ago, that the Government won’t meet its target of recruiting 1,000 new police officers by the end of March is in itself a blotch on the consensus agreement on crime that the Holness administration signed with the Opposition and civil society groups six months ago. But it also raises fundamental questions about the emphasis that the police chief, Antony Anderson, and the national security minister, Horace Chang, place on having an adequately manned constabulary in Jamaica’s anti-crime mission.
For the need to increase the size of the police forces is not a new matter. It is an old discussion, formal commitment to which preceded the agreement’s signing six months ago. Both Dr Chang and his predecessor, Robert Montague, have implied that accelerated build-up was under way. Before he left the security ministry three years ago, Mr Montague announced that the administration had overcome training constraints with an agreement to use facilities at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. That declaration was widely welcomed.
The size of Jamaica’s police force, or the inadequacy thereof, has a context. This is a high-crime society. On average, more than 1,300 people are murdered annually. A dozen years ago, homicides reached 1,600. In a region with an unenviable reputation for murders, Jamaica’s homicide rate of nearly 48 per 100,000 puts the island in the top reaches of the league table of the world’s most murderous countries.
Among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members, only three countries are within hailing distance of Jamaica with respect to the rate at which citizens kill each other: Trinidad and Tobago, whose murder rate is close to 45 per 100,000; Belize, at 40; and The Bahamas, where it hovers around 30. In the rest of CARICOM, homicide rates tend to be in the low double digits, and, in some cases, single digit.
Yet, on a per capita basis, Jamaica maintains a smaller constabulary than most regional countries. For example, in Antigua and Barbuda, where over the past few years the number of murders annually could be counted on a single hand, there are 750 police per 100,000 citizens. In Grenada, based on available data, the ratio is closer to 870 per 100,000. The Bahamas is near 800. Dominica’s is a little over 700 per 100,0000, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, nearly 630.
In the summer of 2019, Commissioner Anderson told this newspaper that there were 11, 790 members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), roughly 17 per cent below the number it was allowed to have. The JCF had recently enlisted 362 new members as part of what was expected to be an accelerated recruitment effort. However, 274 members left the force, so net retention was only 88 – 24 per cent of the new enlistment. Which would not be a bad thing if those who left were among the bad lot who gave the JCF its reputation for corruption. Based on the commissioner’s figure of June 2019, Jamaica had around 433 police per 100,000 population. Probably only Haiti in CARICOM had a lower ratio.
Not long after the commissioner’s remarks, Dr Chang expanded on the recruitment goals, saying that 4,000 members would be added to the force over three years for regular policing duties. Thereafter, another 2,000 would be recruited for special squads and investigative agencies. Based on Dr Chang’s figures and timetable, the size of the JCF should increase by one-third, to 16,000, before the end of 2022. In another few years, the number would jump a further 12.5 per cent, to 18,000. In other words, the intention was to increase the size of the JCF over the next half a decade or so.
RECRUITMENT TARGET WON’T BE MET
But Mr Distant, the president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and chair of the committee that monitors the implementation of the consensus agreement, reported that not only will the recruitment target set out the document not be met, but “the (current) establishment number is even below where we were at the start of the consensus”. Peter Bunting, the shadow national security minister, claimed that the JCF now has fewer members than the figure Commissioner Anderson gave more than 16 months ago. Apparently, the Government has blamed the COVID-19 pandemic budgetary constraints for the slow recruitment. It is not clear if, and how, the Government intends to meet the targets. Or if they have been deferred, and by how long.
In the 2021-22 Budget presented to Parliament last week, Finance Minister Nigel Clarke allocated J$31.12 billion to the police force, a seven per cent increase on the previous year’s J$29.15 billion. The entire increase has, effectively, been allocated for the compensation of employees – J$19.97 billion. Whether this sum includes paying new recruits or merely covering increased wages to existing staff at the start of a new contract cycle is not addressed in the Budget document.
Minister Chang and Commissioner Anderson must address the issue of recruitment. The recent escalation of criminality insists upon it. Police on the streets have a deterrent effect on crime. And recruiting new, properly vetted, trustworthy police officers, while forcing out the bad guys, is the surest way of creating the critical mass of good cops required for building an efficient constabulary in which Jamaicans have confidence.