Martin Henry | As the lime-green cops roll in …
In the interest of bipartisan support for new policing measures, a little concession could be made to Fitz Jackson and the Opposition PNP for which he is spokesman on national (in)security.
The members of the latest new branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PTSE), have been equipped with lime green bikes, vests, and helmets. Why can't the helmets be made light orange to make Mr Jackson and the PNP happy and to exactly match the pale green, which he complains is a bias in favour of the governing JLP? This would go well with the red seams that the police already wear.
Pale versions of green and orange are a nice expression of the washed-out condition of the two political parties, certainly when it comes to successful policing strategies. And an orange helmet of whatever shade would sweet the PNP everlasting, covering the seat of intellect as it does in the colour of the self-proclaimed intellectual party from its founding in 1938 with the country's most brilliant lawyer at its helm, but which, over the long, bloody years, has hardly been any more successful in crime-fighting strategies when in government than the party of labouring hands founded by a non-intellectual.
Is results wi want, not another colour war! Political painting while the country bleeds and bawls.
So I welcome the PSTE despite its potential for only delivering incremental improvements in public safety and crime reduction as it is currently designed to operate. I have been calling for it for years. It has arrived as a pickney, but it can grow to big man.
The trouble with almost all of our national transformational plans and actions is that they are not big enough, they are not bold enough, they are not revolutionary enough. And they, therefore, cannot deliver enough. But see, we have done something. It's back-to-school time. One schooler was raped, killed, and burned in Arnett Gardens on the eve of September morning. Another was shot with two others in a casual walk-by shooting in Falmouth on the way to school just four days into the new academic year. Public safety matters quite a lot to the nation's crime-frightened children.
I supported the concept and plan for zones of special operations - only to be disappointed. We can manage to have only two of them when there must be more than two dozen ZOSO-qualified communities across the country. Crime flourishes outside the couple ZOSOs so much so that there has been a fallback on the tired strategy of the state of emergency and in only two police divisions.
Readers can pick on just about any other sector that they wish. Same story. Big chat. Little deep change. And this will be the story of the PSTE as it is currently configured if it remains that way. It is too small to deliver big results.
The JCF is now headed by a military man, the third, steeped in strategy and the art of war. From the news reports, at the launch of the PSTE, Commissioner Antony Anderson said the branch would be a high-visibility unit that would pioneer the transformation of the JCF into a force that has high levels of public trust and confidence.
"We are," the military strategist told the launch, "responsible for public safety and public order; we are responsible for enforcement of the rules, enforcement of the law, and enforcement of the regulations; and we need to be consistent with our enforcement and inform in the way we treat with matters. And if we are like that, we can become more and more trusted, and the confidence in us will grow. We will shape behaviour by this consistent action and our consistent approach to policing.
"It is clear that our people need to see our police officers and we need to be far more visible. Hopefully we can shape behaviour and not spend as much time on enforcement, but with high visibility needs to be high accessibility.
"We need to be more approachable, we need to be seen and be the go-to people for whatever concerns the public has on safety issues, security issues. And I dare say, as our presence becomes more and more felt out there, the public will be coming to us for just about everything, but that is what it means to be a force for good," the police chief declared.
Nice. But this needs to be simultaneously deployed in all the major population centres across the country for maximum and lasting effect. And it's not just a matter of manpower. The security forces could staff only two ZOSOs, we were told. Then two states of emergency were added - and staffed. Now, the PSTE is commissioned with 300 police officers. It's a matter of strategic deployment.
We tasted possibilities last week when the police took control of traffic flow with major roadworks in progress all across the Corporate Area and on Mandela Highway and schools reopening September morning. The chaos braced for fizzled with strategy and presence. This newspaper could report on its Tuesday front page, 'Motorists welcome smooth traffic flow as schools reopen': "The police had promised smooth sailing on the roads for yesterday's first official day of back-to-school, which coincided with new traffic changes to facilitate road-improvement works across the Corporate Area. Some motorists were uneasy about what they would face, but to their relief, things went better than expected.The gridlock that many of them were preparing for never materialised, thanks to the effort of the police and members of the army, who were seen at nearly every major intersection across the Corporate Area. Members of the newly created Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch were also out directing traffic."
Back in 2015 when a dozen agencies falling under the Ministry of National Security ran an advertisement campaign, 'One Nation. One Mission.', I wrote a column '72 hours to a safer Jamaica', in which I said: "People advertise because they know it works, at least when done right. The police mobilise for saturated street coverage at Christmas because they think it works. And then they retreat to stations and offices until next Christmas ... .
"I have a word of 'citizenly' advice to offer to those whose job it is to keep us safe: In 72 hours, three days, for a start, Jamaica can visibly start to become a safer place. With measurable reductions starting to happen in murders, extortion, scamming, praedial larceny, robberies, traffic violations, public transport violations, vending violations, environmental breaches, noise abatement violations. The whole gamut of crime, lawlessness, and disorder.
"The security forces, by simply being there, need to take back the towns and streets of Jamaica, the public spaces which the public authority controls. There is a psychology to crime and lawlessness, which is very well known. People will push the limits and do what they can get away with without being apprehended. But people also, to an overwhelming degree, yield to visible and serious authority. And people modify their behaviour from observing exemplary cases of punishment.
"Our security forces, with full respect for human rights, on a day not to be announced, must move to take control of the town centres and commercial hubs and transport centres of our major townships by sheer presence. Almost as a military operation. They must control with presence the known urban crime hotspots. They must take out of circulation crime leaders and gang leaders on even minor but stickable offences."
The police commissioner, a bright military man, hardly needs my strategy advice, but his PSTE half-measures will only yield half-results. But that is what the country can afford as we continue to afford stacks of bodies annually with rampant lawlessness and disorder.