Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Cops being trained like ‘young chickens’ - Senior JCF members say extraordinary security measures unhealthy for new police personnel

Published:Sunday | February 9, 2020 | 12:30 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
A policeman interacts with a motorist at a state of emergency checkpoint along Mountain View in the East Kingston Police Division recently.

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are expressing concern that the extraordinary security measures employed by the Government could have a damaging impact on young cops and their service to the nation over the long term.

The lawmen’s worries follow reports that almost 70 per cent of the estimated $505 million budgeted to maintain the states of emergency (SOEs) during the fiscal year 2019-2020 has already been spent, and that policemen and trainees from the National Police College of Jamaica were surviving on cup soup and crackers daily.

“While the SOE has a lot of benefits, we have to be very careful,” said one decorated cop, who asked not to be identified for fear of victimisation.

“The SOE speaks to the suspension of a person’s constitutional rights. So a policeman, for example, can give a citizen a directive and say, ‘look, I don’t have to answer any of your questions. I know what is in your best interest and I need you to keep moving’.

“There is no discretion or space to facilitate dialogue and the relationship between the police and the public that ultimately we would want going forward,” posited the cop, noting that not all of Jamaica is engulfed by areas of high crime intensity, and, therefore, such dictatorial methods may not be ideal everywhere.

“A young cop is really being trained while on the job. If his or her first exposure is along this line, then that might not be the type of policing that we envision over the long run,” he said, adding that JCF’s recruitment process has suffered since 2017 as efforts have been made to bolster police presence on the ground.

DIMINISHING QUALITY

“What you are going to have over time is an increase in the quantity but a diminishing of the quality. Right now, they (trainees) are being placed in a controlled environment and are being grown like young chickens. We have to be very careful,” continued the cop, fearing the ill-impact on the public.

The senior cop’s concern was buttressed by Sergeant Patrae Rowe, chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, who last week said most trainees and graduates have been directly assigned to zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and SOEs after graduation.

The most recent batch of new members of the Force, Batch 120, graduated from the police college in August last year. There were 146 of them.

“An officer is trained for two years, and that training should entail law and police procedures over those two years. It is aimed at grooming a well-rounded police officer in all procedures,” Rowe told The Sunday Gleaner.

UNDEREXPOSURE TO POLICING

He said that when a new graduate from the police college is placed in a ZOSO or SOE, which are crime-response initiatives in a particular space or high-intensity area for crime, it does not expose the policeman to the laws and police procedures he is intended to benefit from.

“You will thus have officers who are confirmed in the position of police without the requisite exposure that the training regime was intended to have. So you have police who are underexposed to policing. The SOE and ZOSO detract from that,” said Rowe, who reiterated compounding concerns of long hours and nutrition for police personnel in SOEs.

Up to last week, a $1,500 daily stipend agreed on by the Government had not been paid out to cops stationed in SOEs and ZOSOs across the island, Rowe said, even as he noted an improvement in physical conditions for personnel inside the SOEs.

In the meantime, trainees last week complained that they have had to endure the tough conditions beyond the initial four months of practical training as their final graduation dates remain in limbo.

With SOEs imposed in eight of the 19 police divisions islandwide, the students pointed to fiscal constraints as the root cause, and noted that the hold-up coincides with the Government’s increasing mandate on the constabulary to rein in violent crimes. However, the Police High Command on Thursday rebuffed those assertions.

“The JCF has the necessary resources to adequately produce new and vibrant members who are ready to tackle the ever-changing landscape of law enforcement in the 21st century,” a statement from the JCF read.

We are producing a vibrant, modern constabulary that is populated by members with the right training and organisational culture necessary to observe the rule of law, respect all members of society, and to be a force for good.”

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com