Tue | Jan 22, 2019

People's Report: Overpolicing in Upper Trelawny

Published:Saturday | June 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I grew up in the hills of Albert Town, Trelawny. The police station that served us then - albeit a little rundown now - still serves the community today. I remember the respect the police had for the community, and vice versa. They weren't bothersome and the citizens weren't targeted or fearful.

Albert Town is primarily a farming community filled with proud, hard-working parents of successful children like me and others of my peers who are lawyers, doctors entrepreneurs, you name it. It is not unusual during the holiday periods to see expensive cars, well-dressed people and a lot of fanfare around town. Families come back to visit from abroad and from other areas of Jamaica.

The community has seen a recent insurgence of commercial and residential activity. My guess is that there is a spike in returning residents, as well as investments. This, however, shouldn't make my friends and I who visit from abroad targets of the police. On one of my visits, we were stopped a record eight times during my two-week vacation period because we were 'foreigners' and we 'must have something on us', according to one policeman who stopped us.

I also noticed, on my visit in December 2014, the excessive overpolicing that took place every day. Now, this is a relatively quiet rural community, not Gaza or Tivoli or any other garrison. Policemen dressed in navy blue uniforms were walking around town with semi-automatic pistols and machine guns out in the open.

In one instance, I observed a few policemen alighting from a police truck in the town square with much aggression to search a young man who was in the company of young children.

The policemen were forceful, disrespectful and egotistic. I heard one yell, "Hey, bwoy, stan up!" and proceeded to pat him down with no regard for his right as a citizen. They were looking for marijuana. They found none. He was left shaken up and humiliated. His siblings were terrified.

I understand that things may have changed over the years and the crime statistics (non-fatal crimes) may be different from my days a happy child there, but what I observed over the last few months was police profiling, excessive use of force and harassment.

Why are there are so many policemen in that area when certainly some can be better served elsewhere in the more crime-riddled communities? I was concerned enough to inquire from many residents about my observation and to sum up their concerns in two words, they are 'scared straight'. They are deeply afraid to live freely and are concerned for their children, particularly their male children.

People have cited instances where it is commonplace for groups of young men to be scooped up in unnecessary raids simply because they are gathered recreationally. Most recently, there were reports of policemen taking citizens into custody because they were driving nice vehicles and have International numbers in their smartphones. According to one of my sources, the law-enforcement personnel cited suspicion of scamming purely from this profile. Really?

I am all for safety of our citizens and I commend police men who are working hard on behalf of the country. However, I am pleading on behalf of my beloved community for a reprieve of this unnecessary harassment and request that the field officers be better supervised.

We must remember that as citizens of Jamaica, we are innocent until proven guilty, and even the worst of the worst deserves to be treated humanely when in police custody or involved in a police investigation - whether it is warranted or not . It's the law.

I implore the JCF to assess their placement priorities and use their personnel in a more effective way towards fighting crime. Don't allow the very individuals we trust to protect us become terrorists in our communities.

Heather Elliott