Garth Rattray | Save millions by centralising police ops
I felt a smidgen of trepidation as I entered the dilapidated two-storey building that was condemned by the health authorities since 1980. Termite-infested, dank, and dingy walls led us from rooms with paint stripped off by Father Time to others pitted by Mother Nature. Gaping holes were on the external walls.
The design of the mouldy, disintegrating, wooden windows with glass made opaque over the years betrayed the decades-old construction. This was no old and decaying remote country house. This building is part of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Administrative Block currently in use on the grounds of the Office of the Commissioner of Police.
The Registry has thinning wooden floors that bow, creak, and groan. Its rooms contain old office furniture and mountains of files. It is staffed by police personnel and stores all the files of every past and present member of the constabulary.
The other buildings on the sprawling compound are not as badly deteriorated, but they are not far behind. Some provide offices for the deputy commissioners, assistant commissioners, other high-ranking officers, and the police Corporate Communications Network. The main building accommodates the police commissioner, his staff, and adjunct offices. It is also home to the Control Centre.
SHELL OF A DREAM
The JCF command has essential off-site locations. Many of them rack up significant rental costs. They also dissipate the JCF staff and require time, effort, and expensive travel funding for police who must commute between them for meetings and other necessary organisational activities.
Consequently, Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams initiated the 'Special Building Project' at 103 Old Hope Road. It was funded by donations from concerned civic-minded private businesses with minimal assistance from the Government. Members of the JCF provided all the labour. The 22,000-square-foot, four-storey building is an almost-completed shell of a dream. It is partially tiled, conduits for electricity and communications are already installed and labelled, several ceiling lights are waiting to be energised, partition mouldings are on some floors, window and door frames lay in storage, and plumbing is prepared, but that is as far as the dream goes.
It was scheduled for completion between December 2015 and February 2016. It only needs eight to 12 weeks to be ready for occupation. Some of the walls are primed in white, like the colour of the elephant it is destined to be unless the Government intervenes urgently and completes the project. Financial bugbears and/or bureaucratic hurdles demand urgent attention because significant millions are being spent offsite while the badly needed building languishes indefinitely.
The police took the necessary initiative. They were creative in sourcing funding. The new, spacious, strong, and safe Special Building Project is just outside of their grasp. It stands tall amid its crumbling and hazardous predecessors. Leaving it unfinished mocks the admirable efforts of Commissioner Williams and the JCF.
The negative psychological impact is absolutely demoralising. Once completed, it will be able to facilitate several of the important offsite operations that currently cost taxpayers more than $301 million in rent, maintenance, and car parking annually.
Obviously, we must pay for the police stations that we rent, but the really big-ticket items include a combined annual parking fee of about $2.5 million, an annual maintenance of approximately $37.6 million, rental costs of more than $40 million for two floors, and rental of about $20 million for a separate floor. And that's just at one location. Certainly, relocating some of those and other operations to Old Hope Road will reduce spending significantly.
The necessary public (consumer) interfaces can be maintained where they are now to occupy far less space and facilitate parking while the admin, ops, records, and bulk of the office staff can be relocated to Old Hope Road. We are in the 21st century and current Internet technology allows for such things.
The Consolidated Fund is not an infinite source of renewable income. It is a precious commodity that must be cherished, accessed frugally, and not wasted. The powers-that-be need to complete the building, centralise the more expensive JCF operations, and save us billions over the next few years.