Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Fixing the Force

Published:Friday | July 15, 2016 | 12:20 AM
Gail Abrahams
In this 2009 file photo, members of a joint police-military team patrol Salt Spring, St James following an attack on the community by heavily armed thugs.

The call for solutions to the crime problem gained new momentum after a bloody week which left a trail of dead bodies in western Jamaica and elsewhere in the country. Indeed, some persons are calling for the head of National Security Minister Robert Montague after only four months in office.

Statistics suggest that the police are not winning the war against crime. For the first six months of 2016, more than 500 murders have been recorded. There is widespread agreement that Jamaica's disturbingly high murder rate is way out of proportion to its size.

It was the subject which engaged The Fourth Floor in frank and thoughtful conversation for more than three hours recently, as they pinpointed strategies that could help reduce crime and violence and make Jamaica safer.

The Fourth Floor felt that effective policing must involve the police and citizens working together. Few people understand this crime-fighting strategy of partnership better than Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin who has been part of Jamaica's security apparatus for some 36 years, serving stints as head of the army and the police.

He gave the example of an inner-city experiment. "The JDF (Jamaica Defence Force) went into Hannah Town in 2003 to try and do something different. We spent 18 months and every week we opened up boundaries. We took over all of Denham Town and there was not one major crime in Denham Town and Hannah Town in those 18 months."

This intervention included getting help for persons who were engaged in enterprise: A man rearing ornamental fish, a carpenter making furniture, boys on the corner creating art and a group known as the Conscious Girls, who were interested in hairdressing.

Lewin is convinced that these interventions are necessary to enable skilled persons to grow so they can employ others in the community. But it is not the job of the security forces. These interventions must come from the various agencies of government.


Willing recruits


Shumba Brown is a 19-year-old graduate of Jamaica College where he served as head boy. This ambitious teenager is focused on getting a career and is heading to college. Sadly, many boys of Shumba's age, bereft of opportunities and lacking guidance, become willing recruits for criminal endeavours such as gang activities including the lottery scam.

"Many young people who get involved in crime do not believe they will ever be caught," he told the gathering.

Those views were reinforced by UWI medical student Romario Scott. "In terms of the general overview of the crime landscape in Jamaica, people feel as if when they commit crime, they won't be caught."

The Fourth Floor discussed how police effectiveness and fear of punishment affect people's attitude towards crime.

With the focus on some of the most sensitive issues in policing, the group heard about a policeman who found $7 million and reported it. He was ridiculed and ostracised by his colleagues who wanted him to say he found $3 million so they could get some of the money for themselves. For his honesty, this policeman and his family were harassed and threatened. Eventually he died of a heart attack and his wife had a stroke and also died.

This reaction of his colleagues. though reprehensible, is not surprising. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been badly scarred by a string of corruption cases and corruption accusations. This has led many citizens to view the police with suspicion and distrust. The police must therefore make a concerted effort to raise the level of trust and confidence of citizens while dealing effectively with crime.

The discussion recognised that poor remuneration and conditions of work have to be addressed, if the administration is serious about tackling crime.

Gail Abrahams, AMCHAM CEO, has been stopped by the police more than once and they consistently pour out their distress to her. There have been instances when they have asked her for money to assist with domestic needs.

"I believe if you are supposed to be protecting the society and you are not paid properly, you are vulnerable to other sources," Abrahams said.


Mother shot dead


Lewin has himself felt the sting of violence, having lost his mother to the gunman's bullet. "My mother came to Jamaica for a visit. Landed at Sangster International at 5 p.m., went to the family home in Ocho Rios, and by 10 p.m. she was shot dead along with a family friend who was walking with her."

The rear admiral says violence in Jamaica has five dimensions. The first is related to politics, then there is the business/commercial aspect, third is law enforcement, fourth socio-economic/socio-cultural and the fifth being civil society. The discussions heard how closely linked these dimensions are to each other with socio-economic/socio-cultural producing the bulk of violent crime.

"To deal with the problem requires that all five dimensions are treated simultaneously," he suggested.


A waste of good cops


The rear admiral disclosed that a huge chunk of the 12,000 establishment is not available to serve the country. "Too many good police are taken out of the system doing work that civilians should be doing," he told The Gleaner's inaugural The Fourth Floor talks.

"We need to get the police back into policing. If there is a job in the police force where you do not need the power of a police constable then a civilian can do that job."

Fourth Floor guest, Jean Lowrie-Chin, an expert in media and public relations, has been involved in community interventions over the years. She cited the Grants Pen community as a success story where crime has been down, where mediation exists to deal with domestic problems, where there is a daycare centre, as well as art and parenting programmes.

She also gave another example of a group of boys making shoes on Orange Street who caught the attention of the Digicel Foundation which she chairs. The boys were trained to use machines and are now budding entrepreneurs.


Enhanced neighbourhood watch


Lowrie-Chin suggested that the overburdened police force could get valuable assistance from communities through an enhanced neighbourhood watch programme which makes use of modern technology. It's something she has been thinking about and she has even received commitment for funding from a major corporation.

"I called the police, met with them, wrote to them asking for a list of what they needed so I could put a budget together. Although everyone seemed interested, no one has come back to me."

Lowrie-Chin feels that the initiative has so far been ignored because the police are under pressure which is why they have not even had time to convene a meeting to discuss this issue. What will it take to get such an important programme energised?

Lewin says the neighbourhood watch is the function of every police officer and not those who are assigned to do that task. The mentality, he noted, is for policemen to ignore crime and not exercise their authority if it happens outside of their assigned department.

The discussions turned to the matter of a national identification system. The read admiral explained that in many communities persons are known by their aliases only, which poses a challenge to law enforcement. "We have been labouring too long on this ID system and we need to get it up and running," he added.

It was agreed that it requires bold leadership and the political will to inject a new spurt of life into the law enforcement community so that the police get a renewed focus on community-oriented policing and problem-oriented policing to improve their overall delivery of service to the people they have sworn to serve and protect.