Mark Ricketts | Police becoming more professional
"We must deal with the root causes of crime and violence. Then the cycle will be broken and we will not be doomed to repeat it by burying so many innocent persons and perpetuating the moral panic."
- Dr Carl Williams
In this second of a two-part series (the first of which appeared two Sundays ago), the commissioner of police,
Dr Carl Williams, is impressed that the police are becoming more professional. What's unfortunate, however, is that such improvement is that overshadowed by the recent killing of a schoolboy in a very brutal fashion on a bus.
The nightly news on TV, radio broadcasts, social media, the daily newspapers carry the gruesome details of crime and violence in our society. Many people are worried and on edge. Those affected directly or indirectly are pained, are saddened, and some have become anaesthetised in order to cope with the increases in murder.
One approach is to disarm our fears by highlighting the high levels of gang murders, revenge killings, and domestic violence, implying that horrific situations are not as widespread, immediate, and as threatening to some of us as suggested by the numbers.
Of some consolation also is the commissioner of police stating in the previous column that all violent crimes, except murders, are on the decline over the last five years.
Yet, a troubling re-enactment at 85 Red Hills Road, which has been with us as a society for over 60 years, is the issue of governance, the rule of law, a right of entitlement to capture land and erect habitable structures and to institutionalise that right the longer the land is occupied. Any appeal to law and order is blunted by poverty. In such a situation, responsibility will always be gutted by the rights of the poor, the powerless, and the defenceless; discipline, and the rule of law, in particular, sideswiped by the absence of alternatives for those being asked to comply.
The question is always posed, so where is the poor squatter to go? Where is the poor vendor selling a few ackees and some mangoes in an uptown residential neighbourhood, and not troubling anybody, to go?
Insistence on proper planning, land use, zoning, and adherence to the rule of law, critical elements of good governance, have never been rigorously imposed and enforced in many areas throughout Jamaica, so now, communities are overrun with informal settlements that lack appropriate amenities and infrastructure, including sanitation. Adding to the problems, as Dr Williams pointed out previously, these settlements were never designed or built to facilitate proper policing.
Continuing on that same theme of social dysfunction, the commissioner, in response to emails and discussions with readers of the first instalment, reminded them that what we have is a feeder system.
"When we go in and clean up an area or a community and arrest all the bad individuals, if the undesirable social conditions remain intact, or if we fail to deal with those conditions that created the criminal in the first place, almost invariably you are going to find the same high rates of crime being repeated. Somehow, as a society, we are going to have to place greater emphasis and importance on the family, on schools, on education, on sanitation, on employment, on community."
On the question of the difficulties the police sometimes face in apprehending someone selling in an area not designated for vending, or arresting someone who has just stolen something but yet has garnered much sympathy from an encircling crowd inclined to harass and jostle the policeman unless he or she adheres to the request to give the person being arrested a break, the commissioner points out, "So many times people lose sight of the bigger picture, the need for public safety, security, law, and order. Somehow there is not enough civic duty or pride, and there seems to be some aspects of our culture that let people want to support lawlessness."
Responding to statements made in the media, and even expressed in plays and songs, where the policeman is the villain, that all cops are trigger-happy, are on the take, and are the bad guys who can't be trusted, the commissioner admits that there are a few bad apples in the force who clearly tarnish the image of all the good men and women who serve with pride, with honour, and with distinction.
He is, however, adamant and forthright that he has a truly professional force that is well trained and highly disciplined. Many of them are high-school and university graduates and many have improved themselves academically or through job-specific training in several areas.
A point of some pride for the commissioner, which he proclaims without reservation, is that in recent years, the JCF has had one of the most robust recruiting and vetting systems in Jamaica, which is comparable to any other police organisation in the First World, or any other country for that matter.
He is especially delighted that Jamaica has a state-of-the-art polygraph centre that can facilitate multiple polygraph sessions simultaneously and has the capacity to deliver polygraph training to both local and overseas law-enforcement officials.
"We have stricter screening methods and our polygraph tests are supported by other vetting tools such as fingerprinting and psychometric evaluation. Our polygraph examinations are used not only for admissions to the force, but used in establishing integrity when promotion is being given, especially at the senior rank."
Dr Williams says he is pushing hard to promote and ensure a culture of ethics within the force, and to this end, up to August this year, there was disciplinary action taken against 200 police officers who worked against the organisation's protocol and standards, including eroding the public trust with allegations of corruption.
Reporting on the strength of the investigative skills of the force, the commissioner asserts: "We are a country of laws, and as police out there, we know the courts are an uphill battle because it is not just the preponderance of the evidence but guilt beyond the shadow of doubt. We must have evidence and witnesses. At all times, we have that challenge to uphold the standard of proof.
"In addition, we have to ensure that
1) We don't violate the rights of people.
2) We take special care in our investigation.
3) We find the people to be culpable who are really culpable."
With a strong desire to be fair and frank, and recognising the reality of Budget limitations,
Dr Williams hesitantly makes the case that the force needs more men, more cars, and much more equipment, especially equipment that reflects the global advances in technology.
"Crime has gone high-tech, and we must keep pace as far as CCTV, data collection, storage, linkages, and access to and use of smart-phones, tablets, and computers by our men out in the field."
The commissioner is especially pleased with the new body cameras as they will aid in accountability and transparency.
What he finds a little disconcerting is the imbalance between INDECOM and the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is the companion agency. "INDECOM has an extraordinary amount of power to investigate, arrest, and prosecute police officers, while the Inspectorate of Constabulary has no such power in defence of the police. Justice is clearly lopsided."
In spite of all the overarching problems associated with social dysfunction in our society, a point of some comfort and pride for the commissioner is the fact that the Jamaica Constabulary Force is an employer of choice for a great number of integrity-driven and highly qualified professional recruits who are poised to develop and fully utilise breakthroughs in technology and modern policing. This reality, together with the increasing professionalism of the force that the commissioner alludes to, could go a far way in combating crime and violence in our society.
- Mark Ricketts, economist, author, and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the 'Financial Post', Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.