‘Living two lives’ - ZOSO/SOE wrecking home life of young cops
The promise of higher wages and greater respect has gone sour for some district constables-turned-policemen who, since graduation in 2017, have been deployed as part of special security measures in western Jamaica – miles away from their children and family in Kingston.
According to some of the new recruits The Sunday Gleaner spoke to, after graduation they were assigned to police divisions close to home in the Corporate Area, St Catherine, and St Thomas.
Shortly after, however, they were summoned to be part of the deployment of joint security forces to St James – and later on other parishes in the western end of the island following the declaration of a state of emergency in those areas by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Initially, that tour of duty was supposed to be for two weeks, they said. However, it is now going on two years, and they are becoming restless, as they are forced to maintain spousal intimacy and raise their children over their cellular phones.
“This is taking a toll on my woman and pickney dem. You think it easy fi try to raise your pickney them over the phone?” bemoaned one policeman, noting that he is on the brink of losing his family because of his extended absence from home.
“It is just pure insecurities popping up with my relationship. My woman constantly inna argument wid me. Trust me, it really stressing me out.”
The father of three – his youngest still toddlers and the eldest, a rebellious teenage boy – continued, “Sometimes I literally have to counsel myself not to react or do certain things. Because if I should answer her based on how I really feel, I may go home and is me alone at the house.
“Sometimes my son feels that his way is the way to go. It is very hard to raise him over the phone. Things that he would do when I was there, they are not being done anymore.”
The cop said that sometimes he has regrets giving up being a district constable, which he was for six years before transitioning to a policeman.
“They said that it would be better for my children but I didn’t know that it meant that I would not be around them,” he said, almost to tears. “I’m getting more money, but it is like I’m making less now.”
He said that he now has to hide or lie to his youngest children, as they cry and throw a tantrum whenever he leaves home to resume duty.
MINDFUL OF MENTAL HEALTH
Child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Ganesh Shetty, noted the psychological impact such situations can have on children and their parents who are working in high-crime, high-stress environments.
“You’re sent in the front line, and you are trying to help persons who may not support you. Coupled with that is the society we live in, where admitting to emotional problems as soldiers and police is taboo. You’re seen as soft, so they hide some of these challenges,” Shetty shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
“Sometimes their family life and family love are lost, too. We really have to be mindful of their mental health.”
District constables have long bemoaned a lack of respect from other members of the constabulary who belittle their level of training, education and overall competence.
Despite carrying out much of the same duties, district constables are often denied benefits such as housing and uniform allowances, which are offered to members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
A district constable reportedly earns roughly $68,000 monthly in gross salary. That income doubles, plus added benefits with the upgraded constabulary status, hence many district constables have opted to better themselves by becoming members of the Force.
That move, however, is among the worst one female constable said she made in her adult life.
“Sometimes I regret it. Honestly, most times I regret it,” noted the woman, following a visit to Kingston to see an ailing family member last week.
“A close relative fell seriously ill, so the travelling back and forth, and it is me one, financially, right now, is really difficult. Sometimes I can’t even find bus fare.”
Missing the close relationship she shared with her mother and sisters, she said, “The bond that we used to have, me and my two sisters, it is not there anymore. We use to spend a lot of time together but because of the distance, when I come home I am just so tired, plus I have so much to do in the little time I get off.”
Other officers shared that they have had to travel from western Jamaica to as far as Portland and St Thomas to visit relatives.
“It is like we are living two lives,” noted a male constable, explaining that in addition to paying bills back home, officers have to find money for toiletries, refreshments, and sometimes dinner, when the food provided by the police high command is not to their liking.
The young members of the JCF deployed to the areas under zones of special operations and states of emergency also said that they have not been granted the promised $1,500 daily stipend for their efforts, with no word from their superiors.
Last month, it was revealed in Parliament that almost 70 per cent of the estimated $505 million budgeted to maintain states of emergency during fiscal year 2019-2020 has already been spent on meals and hotel accommodation.