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Mark Ricketts | It can be done, It must be done - The police force must be transformed

Published:Sunday | December 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMMark Ricketts
Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams

I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

- Jimmy Dean

Crime and violence happen to be Jamaica's biggest problem. Over the past few weeks, trying to offer solutions, I had a two-part series with the current Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams. There was another two-part series on combating crime using new technologies and tools.

This week, we get the views of a former Commissioner of Police Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, who is of the view that in so far as the police are expected to make sure citizens are protected, then what has to be done is a major transformation of the force. Of equal significance is that the other crime enhancing dimensions, for example, socio-economic, socio-cultural, and corruption issues must be tackled simultaneously.

For Lewin, tinkering is not a solution, and everything should be done to ensure a safe and secure Jamaica through a properly governed professional and accountable police service working in partnership with other elements of government and the society as a whole. For this reason, the former commissioner welcomes the announcement that the government intends to have a new Police Act in place by 2017.

"There must be tangible changes in systems and processes, and there has to be a range of interventions targeted at improving leadership capacity, management effectiveness, professional skills, and integrity and accountability," he contends.

 

Penchant for problem solving

 

The admiral's emphasis on process and systems and management and leadership, and later, as we shall see, structure and organisation, could be attributed to his years as chief of staff of the Jamaica Defence Force, coupled with his post graduate degree in business administration and underpinned by his penchant for problem solving.

One of the problems he identifies, which was laid out in the 2008 Jamaica Constabulary Force Strategy Review, is that human resource is inadequately staffed to manage training and development, career progress in promotion, and succession planning. In addition, he believes that the JCF is hampered by multiple layers of command and control structures which happen to be not in sync with the needs of modern policing. "This creates confusion as the distinction between line and staff responsibility and accountability is blurred."

Lewin is of the view that the 2008 review provides an excellent road map to begin the process of transformation of the force. He sees many parallels between the 2008 recommendations and those of the 1999 Patton Report that led to the transformation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Northern Island Police Service.

To give credence to his argument for a major overhaul, the former commissioner draws on history.

"It is to be remembered," he asserts, "the formation of our police force in the 1800s was a colonial response to the Morant Bay Rebellion. The force's basic construct was a militaristic, hierarchical organisation, and its intended purpose was to support the colonial power in keeping the natives in line during riots and insurrection. It was never designed from the get-go as an organisation to be friendly to its citizens. This kind of police force model was exported to the colonies."

Continuing his theme, he argues that countries, including Jamaica, which have achieved independence and inherited the kind of model exported to the colonies have an urgent need to transform the force's rationale to one that is more citizen and community focused. While Jamaica has made some improvements since independence in technology and in mobility and training, the basic construct has hardly been touched.

 

Lack of adequate investment

 

Thinking of our Jamaica Constabulary Force, the major issues that come to mind are the lack of adequate investment in the police service, the politicisation of the police, corruption within the police, and a host of other human resource-related issues. The former commissioner believes that "while we can say the JCF is a victim of circumstance and of history, those of us who have served, and continue to serve, must take our share of the blame.

As in other areas within our society, there is a deficit of leadership, and what we should be exploring is how can we make the transformational change that is necessary for the JCF to become a modern citizen-focused, policing-by-consent police service."

Lewin acknowledges that transformational change is complex and extraordinarily difficult. "The depth and impact of the changes are usually profound, moving beyond structures and systems into values, behaviour, and organizational culture. It is a 10-15 year project and requires strong policy decision-making from our leaders, the policymakers."

He believes we have tinkered far too long, and there are some deep-seated cultural issues that must be addressed.

"Firstly, we must a have a consensus on how ingrained the challenges are and a consensus among the government and the opposition on how to deal with them. This is necessary because the project implementation must continue across administrations."

 

Deflict in leadership

 

Lewin continues: "Secondly, we have to deal with our deficit in leadership and remind our leaders that leaders must lead. When the policymakers agree on the direction we are going, then they must recruit expertise as part of an implementation team overhauling the JCF."

Lewin emphasises that while this transformative process is taking place, the business of the day, which is your everyday police work, has to continue. The matter of preventing, serving, and protecting the citizen cannot be put on hold.

He adds: "We need tangible changes to systems and processes. The general public's distrust of the police and incidents of police corruption have created an uneasy distance between police and citizens as the 2008 Strategic Review points out."

He mentions eight major planks, some of which were identified in the review, that must be addressed in the transformational process:

- Policing plans. There must be developed and implemented effective policing plans at the corporate and divisional levels.

- Remuneration. New terms and conditions of service should be introduced, including improved compensation, as a component of a package of incentives designed to transform the JCF.

- A new structure. There must be realignments and restructuring of the force to increase efficiency. This is the whole purpose of championing the transformation agenda. Many police officers are working extremely hard to the detriment of the lives and health of their family, while significant numbers are not involved in the core business of policing, but in support and administrative activities.

"Civilianisation has to be undertaken as a central activity to get more police into policing. A police officer is too valuable an asset to be involved in duties that do not require an individual with the powers of a constable to carry out such duties.

"Furthermore, we should note that large police services with numbers of 30,000 have one deputy commissioner and four uniformed assistant commissioners. The JCF, with less than 14,000 has five deputy commissioners, with each having his or her portfolio responsibilities, and in excess of 15 assistant commissioners. This creates enormous power at the top and less at the divisional levels, where the operational "rubber of policing meets the road".

- Leadership and management. There has to be an increased focus on the development of leadership and management skills, along with clarification of leadership roles and responsibilities.

- Culture. "So many have both managed and been promoted through a maze of ineffective systems, poor culture and internal politics. In certain respects, as the 2008 review found, this has limited their individual and collective responsibility to change those very elements that are severely limiting the JCF from modernising."

- Internal and external accountability. There has to be enhancement of accountability mechanisms governing the operations of the JCF.

- Professionalism. Recommendations should be effected to ensure professionalism, efficiency, and enhanced competence of the entire organisation.

- Accountability. "The police needs a singular board, which functions like any other board of directors. Instead, what we now have is fragmentation with the police commissioner having to report to, deal with, liaise with the Police Services Commission, the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, The Ministry of National Security, and the National Security Council. Answering to so many bodies, institutions, and legislators serves to diffuse accountability by creating confusion for the public and the police.

"The people are not the enemy," the former Commissioner points out. "We need them on our side to help, and for this to happen, there must be improvement of public confidence in policing. On this score, the transformative agenda is imperative."

- 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 columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com