Tue | May 22, 2018

Mark Ricketts | The professor should apologise to the police

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Professor Anthony Harriott, criminologist and chairman of the PCOA, delivered a caustic critique of Jamaican police culture.
Police on patrol in the troubled August Town in St Andrew following the recent fatal shooting of four persons in the community.
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Not only has the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) lost its commissioner, George Quallo, to resignation, but the police, over the last few days, have been chastised and humiliated to the point where they might as well close the institution.

Can a body of men and women who subject their recruits and many of those being promoted to polygraph tests be as awful, as dreadful, as some are claiming?

Can a constabulary with six oversight bodies, many of which are civilians, continue to be as "toxic" as is reported? Based on published media reports and analyses, the police have reached rock bottom.

Listen to Professor Anthony Harriott, chairman of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, saying in a Gleaner front-page story that "the occupational culture of the police force is one where you take the car and you go off and drink rum and do no investigation". This is more than metaphoric. This is a savage indictment of a law-enforcement institution. Not only are those who work for it indifferent to work, but they are wanton and reckless, and they have no moral or ethical standards, opting instead to be inebriated than carry out their assigned duties.

How far down are people like Harriott prepared to push our many men and women who are our only line of defence against hardened criminals and gun-toting youths not interested or inclined to negotiate?

 

OVERBURDENED JCF

 

When Government extends the state of public emergency in St James another three months until May, and the JCF is already short-staffed, does the society understand the workload that the entire force has to bear? But then, who cares about the human toll when the imagery of cops sauntering off to the rum bar is more scintillating!

Harriott, having impugned the force, is urging legislators to move swiftly on a bill to split the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) from the JCF and make it a stand-alone, elite law-enforcement investigative agency. "It is critical that MOCA is removed immediately. It will lose credibility. The JCF is toxic. And there is no point in spending a lot of money, giving people high-level training, for them to become part of the JCF's occupational culture," says Harriott.

MOCA is elite, but it is still a part of the force, and, believe it or not, it is more than 90 per cent staffed by JCF personnel, including cops who were on the beat. A JCF that could spawn, develop, and nurture MOCA, isn't that an institution worthy of our praise? Not according to Harriott.

He goes further to proclaim that the current investigative capacity of the JCF is no deterrent to criminals, yet the police just scored a 61 per cent conviction rate in the Home Circuit Court. Convictions outstripping acquittals mean that the police are doing good work.

This is affirmed by Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies, who says that once he started paying deep attention to the work of our homicide detectives, he has developed a deep respect for them. "Given what I have observed with those foot soldiers at the Criminal Investigative Bureau, if I were a potential murderer, I would be scared to even kill time. After news broke that Kartel had been charged, and given what I had seen the cops do, I thought the 'World Boss' was going to see a much smaller world."

I have read Harriott's books and even quoted from them. But his views in the newspaper remind me so much of when I was growing up and the business class and the newly emerging middle-class professionals paid their helpers poorly, although they worked seven days a week, morning to night, with only Sunday afternoons off. Even the Hoover polisher that made work easier was available only at Christmas time, so for the entire year, helpers, on their knees, had to scrub and shine those floors twice a week.

When employers didn't want to pay their helpers more money, they justified their reluctance on the grounds that the helpers were not performing up to standard, yet they complained about this and that, including not enough money and insufficient time off. Employers were insistent that you can't give into them or be nice to them; they just need to perform."

 

POLICE-POPULATION RATIO

 

Fast-forward to Harriott's comments last week: "When the murder rate goes through the roof, the police squeal that they don't have enough of this or that." Well, I can attest, they don't have enough of this and that. As the January 30, 2018, Gleaner editorial pointed out, Jamaica's police-to-population ratio is well below that of other Caribbean countries, and, as such, "the force lacks the numbers to patrol streets and investigate crimes. What makes those statistics galling is that the country suffers catastrophic levels of social dysfunction, symptomised by traffic chaos, a collapse in public order, and near-record levels of murder."

Like the poorly paid helpers of yesterday, the underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced police, working extremely long hours, are not supposed to squeal about their lack of sufficient uniforms; their low, basic income, which contributes to low morale; their poor working conditions; their lack of vehicles; and the absence of sufficient tools and technologies. Their job is to perform by bringing the murder rate down, even if they are given basket to carry water.

The denigration of the force by Harriott in saying that "the occupational culture of the JCF is one where you take the car and you go off and you drink rum and do no investigation" is exceeded only by the silence of the men and women of stature in the society.

So low is our police force in the eyes of our opinion makers that until Wednesday, not one official stepped up and asked for an immediate apology to the police from Harriott, as well as his resignation as head of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority. Not the prime minister, not the leader of the Opposition, not any church official, no university president, no private-sector leader.

The only public comment I heard was from a middle-aged man in Papine Square saying how he heard "a university man call the policeman them rum head". How devastating and debilitating for an institution like the JCF, which is geared at law enforcement! But then, bashing the police has become Jamaica's biggest growth industry, for which there is a ready-made audience.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.