Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Horace Chang | Disbanding Mobile Reserve - the facts

Published:Sunday | August 18, 2019 | 12:30 AM

Earlier this year, the decision was taken to disband the current configuration of the Mobile Reserve. This was a crucial step in the ongoing process of the internal restructuring and expansion of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Since then, there has been much speculation about the factors that influenced this decision. Some have even posited that it was as a result of the unfortunate controversial shooting incident at Chedwin Park, St Catherine, on April 28, 2019. Though the announcement was made within days of this lamentable shooting incident, the deliberative process leading up to the decision was long in the making.

Recommendations for the restructuring of the JCF can be traced back as far as 2008 with the publication of the Ministry of National Security’s report of the JCF Strategic Review Panel titled ‘ A New Era of Policing in Jamaica: Transforming the JCF’. The proposed restructuring of the Mobile Reserve was addressed more specifically in the 2015 Professor Anthony Clayton report titled ‘Organisational Review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force: the Transition to a Modern Police Service’.

So essentially, discussions about the broad restructuring of the JCF and the repositioning of specialised formations have been ongoing for more than 10 years and across administrations. As I had outlined in my contribution to the 2019-2020 Sectoral Debate on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the commissioner of police has undertaken to execute a comprehensive restructuring of the JCF towards a more efficient, modern, and relevant organisation that is highly professional in the delivery of service.

This JCF-led process is seeking to optimise the capacity of the force to the benefit of Jamaica and all Jamaicans and is in keeping with this administration’s commitment to making the difficult decisions and employing innovative and modern approaches.

Jamaica, like many of its regional and international partners, operates within a framework of cooperation since the threats and risks faced by our island are increasingly interconnected, multifaceted, and transnational in nature. At the regional level, Jamaica is guided by the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy (CCSS), which provides a framework for collaboration on regional crime and security issues.

Within this context, Jamaica is signatory to various agreements, which include, for example, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the sharing of intelligence among member states.

At the bilateral level, Jamaica has had long-standing collaboration on security matters with its traditional partners such as Canada, the United States (US), and the United Kingdom (UK). These partnerships have facilitated Jamaica’s interruption of transnational organised criminal activities involving illicit drugs and illegal guns, gangs and organised crime, cybercrime, financial crimes, and corruption. Threats of this nature are among the main contributors to Jamaica’s high level of crime and violence. These strategic alliances have been instrumental in the advancement of our security interests without compromising our nation’s sovereignty, principles, or values.

IMPLICATIONS OF BILATERAL DEALS

Jamaica’s security operations are designed and executed within the confines of our legislation. Even so, the scrutiny of our partners in relation to the execution of our security operations can result in adverse implications for the members of our operational formations. In the case of the United States, for example, the Leahy Law, which also undergirds the Department of Defence’s “prohibition on use of funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces that have committed a gross violation of human rights”, makes it clear that “of the amounts made available to the Department of Defence, none may be used for any training equipment, or other assistance for a unit of a foreign security force if the secretary of defence has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights … . The prohibition shall not apply if the secretary of defence, after consultation with the secretary of state, determines that the government of such country has taken all necessary corrective steps [… .]” (US Code, Title 10, Section 362).

In the article entitled ‘US suspends assistance to JCF, JDF units involved in Tivoli incursion, that was published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016, it was confirmed that the United States had “suspended cooperation and assistance to all security force units involved in the May 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion”. It was further revealed through the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry report that the Mobile Reserve was among the police units involved in the operation.

This selective suspension of assistance presents a significant challenge for the members attached to the unit not only but the entire JCF. It means that every member of the force is subject to extensive Leahy vetting in order to access US-sponsored training and technical assistance. There are also implications for new recruits graduating from the Police College who may be assigned to the Mobile Reserve and who would immediately receive a similarly heightened degree of scrutiny before his career has started. This could result in him/her not being selected to participate in critical training opportunities.

JCF’S INTERNAL PROCESS OF RESTRUCTURING

By the time Major General Antony Anderson assumed the post of commissioner of police in March 2018, he would have been privy to a plethora of recommendations relating to the transformation of the JCF. The 2015 Clayton report that was mentioned before proposed key reforms that included a major reallocation of human and physical resources. It was also recommended that:

a) The Mobile Reserve should be restructured into highly trained SWAT teams that should be special units of the Area Operational Support Teams (OSTs). Their attachment to an area would help to ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the local issues, eliminate any ambiguity about their role, remove the tension that can sometimes exist between local officers and the Mobile Reserve;

b) There should remain a national corps of elite SWAT officers to undertake highly specialised missions and also to maintain standards and training programmes for the area SWAT teams and OSTs.

The most recent restructuring of the Mobile Reserve would have formed part of the overall thrust to effect lasting change within the JCF in order to meet the demand for effective 21st-century policing. The Government continues to implement strategic changes to the security architecture in an effort to strengthen its capabilities to respond appropriately and with efficiency to crime, violence, and corruption.

The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency is another example of major transformation within the JCF that resulted in the formation of a national law-enforcement agency, akin to the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation or the UK’s National Crime Agency, focusing on the most serious crimes, namely powerful criminal syndicates, top criminals, and facilitators of organised crime and corruption.

Intelligence-led policing is a core deliverable of the transformation of the JCF and will have a direct impact on the force’s ability to intercept and interrupt criminal networks, reduce corruption, and maintain public order.

It should be noted that the National Police Act, which will replace the Constabulary Force Act, forms part of the Government’s efforts to further modernise and transform the JCF. The development of the Law Enforcement (Protection of Integrity) Act will also promote and bolster measures to detect and prevent corruption and other criminal acts among members of law enforcement and encourage and promote integrity among law-enforcement personnel.

The reality faced by our security force today is one that justifies the comprehensive restructuring of the JCF in order for our officers to be able to respond appropriately and effectively to the current demands. Undoubtedly, both cultural and structural changes within the organisation, supported by national consensus around crime-fighting and police transformation efforts, will allow this to happen.

The commissioner of police, with the support of the Government, is taking steps to execute changes that will result in a stronger, Jamaican-cultured crime-fighting institution.

- Dr Horace Chang is the minister of national security. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.