Fri | Jul 10, 2020

Mark Wignall | ‘Boots on the ground’ a political gimmick

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Police searching a man at a checkpoint in Spanish Town during a state of emergency in St Catherine North in 2018.
File Police searching a man at a checkpoint in Spanish Town during a state of emergency in St Catherine North in 2018.

For a nation long desensitised to what effective policing is, it is easy to understand why the sight of a batch of JCF members will delude them into believing that their security is more enhanced. Even for the very moment.

“As we take in the recruits, we rush to teach them the lethal and non-lethal training modules because in a few weeks they will be on the road because ‘boots on the ground’ is simply a ploy to tame an increasingly panicking population of Jamaicans.”

I was in conversation with a man who had deep inside knowledge of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), having spent 12 years there until he resigned a few years ago.

“Are you telling me that many of the men in the SOEs now are not fully trained?” I asked him.

“That is so,” he said, “but technically they have been given some training, so that is used as the explanation should any big criticism be mounted. I don't know how long they believe the masses will be fooled.”

I was not entirely buying into his reasoning. “What is it that is so wrong about using the ‘boots on the ground’ theory? Does it not hinder the movement of organised criminals and make people feel safer?” I asked.

“Well, first, the police hate that term, ‘boots on the ground’. It reduces them to mere bodies and units and not having much more use. The second thing is that organised crime already has their insiders in the various ranks of the JCF. They know what is happening and they know that if push come to shove, those boots on the ground will be left empty as improperly trained youngsters in the JCF run for their lives.”

But even in this he tried to reassure me: “The JCF is not short of intellectual capital and men who know that solving crime is a science. The problem is, not many of those people are encouraged to utilise their organisational and professional abilities. The old order still rules.”

“What does the old order in the JCF want?’ I asked him.

“Not all of them, but powerful factions within see the force as just another part of their personal business. Whenever you see a low-level traffic cop go and hustle a few thousand dollars from a motorist, you are missing the real crime. The real crime is he knows many at the top are corrupt so he figures that not much is wrong with him gently squeezing $5,000 from a taxi man.”

“So, where is the fix? What must be done now?” I asked.

“Just this week alone, at least five police personnel are depending on me to give them specimen resignation letters. I hate to say this, but I have a strong sense that change will never happen in my lifetime,” said the 41-year-old ex-cop. “There is constant pushback against meaningful change and in most things the status quo must be protected.”

PNP race at fever pitch

It was never not going to happen, no matter how strong were the wishes of the eternal optimists.

Internal party elections are always toxic exercises simply because it involves ‘family’, and each and every family member has, at one time or another, had a close up look on the sores of delicate parts of the other family member.

All of those delicacies and secrets are now ripe for trading and ‘tracing’ as September 7 approaches and Peter Phillips seriously considers the possibility that history may be unkind to him should Bunting live up to the winning prospects that he is touted to be.

Dr Phillips has made the accusation that the Bunting Rise United team is mimicking the JLP and has become too money-focused like he figures that party is. Dr Phillips is apparently still fast asleep in Michael Manley’s socialist nightmares of the 1970s, so any faction in the PNP that pitches a business or money focus must be condemned.

Great message for your delegates, Dr Phillips. Let us get one thing clear: Neither Dr Phillips nor Peter Bunting is likely to lead our poorest Jamaicans to their economic heaven any better or quicker than Andrew Holness’ JLP administration is likely to paint the Cockpit Country with the colour of prosperity within the next 10 years.

But Dr Peter Phillips is still very much in love with the PNP’s basic ‘socialism’ tenet, generated at a time when it was a titled gentleman’s understanding that the poorest must always be mentioned in prayers at the feast at dinnertime.

Dr Phillips lobbing the muddy ball of money at Peter Bunting is beautifully playing into the hands of Bunting. PNP delegates know nothing about socialism, and the poorest ones among them, like poor JLP delegates, are diehard capitalists always looking for a hustle or setting up a stall or a small shop or bar.

In many policy actions, the JLP has moved to the Left of the PNP, significantly lowering mortgage rates for NHT lenders and may even steal the title the PNP once had, that of being the housing party.

Can Bunting transform perception to reality?

At just about every street corner, bar and small community gathering, the PNP race is one of the main topics, and Bunting being seen in much better light than Phillips. The problem is, hardly any one of those enjoying their chattering is a delegate.

“Mr Wignall, you know mi is strictly JLP,” said an acquaintance of mine, a 50-year-old auto mechanic. “If Bunting win, di JLP have anything fi fear?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Many JLP insiders had told me weeks ago that Bunting would present them with as many parting, happy gifts just as would be the scenario if Phillips survived the challenge. They have not said much to me, since but I suspect that the JLP is taking a much closer look at the possibility of a Bunting win.”

“But if di ting get nasty,” he said, “and Bunting win, yu don't tink dat not gwine weaken the PNP?”

“I believe that possibility exists, but should Bunting win, the PNP will have to know that Holness is not prepared to be anyone's nice guy. He is not going to wait on the PNP to get their @$/# together for him to call an election. So it will be incumbent on Bunting to get the troops together much sooner than later.”

The JLP administration is forced at this time to pursue whatever positives it can get from extending states of emergency and also hope that both Bunting and Phillips maintain their anti-SOE stance, which has proven quite popular among our people.

Recent polls have indicated that the Bunting challenge has energised those in the population who are political followers. And it appears that a more piercing examination is being made of Andrew Holness and his JLP, even as Bunting gives the PNP much-needed CPR.

The ideal for the JLP is for the Government to complete the road infrastructure and give the NWC significantly more viability in getting water running through more pipes. Many of our people were not that convinced that the JLP’s ‘poverty to prosperity’ message had any immediate deliverables beyond the tax break. But it was a much better message than Peter Phillips.

On the other hand, those in the PNP who support Phillips’ One PNP campaign and expect him to win need to question themselves: How does a low-voltage Dr Phillips build momentum to close the gap with the JLP, especially where the person who sits at the top is often seen as the face of the party.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to and