No need to make police out of our soldiers, says professor
An increase in major crimes in the Eastern Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis has prompted that country's government into giving police powers to the military, but not exceeding six months. However, the University of the West Indies' Professor Anthony Clayton said that such measures in Jamaica would be a colossal mistake.
As regional governments grapple with the dilemma of how to control spiralling crime rates, the school of thought was that new methods and policy shifts were needed, hence the Dr Timothy Harris-led government taking that route.
Harris said that his cabinet "will use every resource at our country's disposal to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity that our people deserve are always available", adding that there will be setbacks on the journey, "but our commitment to make St Kitts and Nevis the safest democratic state in the world will never be shaken".
However, Clayton pointed out that Jamaica's situation is different, noting that while there have been talks in the past about that possibility, he considered it an unnatural step in tackling the country's crime problem.
"The reason is that where we need to get to is a situation where we have our police force actually operating more like a normal police service. In other words, one that is less paramilitary than the one we have now. And if we go the other direction and give the army police powers, this would actually be a step further away from where we need to get to," said the professor.
A SERIOUS STEP
Clayton told The Gleaner that he doubted that the Jamaican Government would be looking at a similar move for the Jamaica Defence Force, even if the final outcomes of the already established states of public emergency and zones of special operations fail to deliver on expectations.
He said that the army, in those special cases, does not have the power of arrest, but is there to support the police operation.
"They can detain a suspect, but they do need to have a police officer present if the suspect is actually going to be arrested and held for trial," Clayton emphasised.
"I think that the situation in St Kitts and Nevis is not comparable. But if you have an immediate crisis, it is possible that the only course of action open to them was to press the army into service, and that is really a crisis decision."
Instead, Clayton reiterated his belief that it would be better to have a good, properly trained police force carrying out policing duties, with the army in support only when necessary.
"To give the army the same authority and powers as the police is a very serious step and not one that you would normally consider unless it was a state of national emergency," he stated.