Technology-based policing and the station diary
THEODORE A. WILLIAMS
Training Development Specialist
Recently, I had an encounter at a police station in Portmore that sharply changed my views on policing in Jamaica.
With the stench of crime and violence at our doorsteps, it is hard not to think about policing and the work of our law-enforcement practitioners.
Within one hour of being at the station, I was deeply stressed for the officer on duty who had endless roles to play, including counsellor, father, and friend. Hands down, policing in Jamaica is by far one of the most stressful professions, and Jamaica needs to praise our officers for their hard work and dedication to law and order, civility, and justice.
Indeed, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has rebranded itself and embraced technology to the extent where officers now have smartphones to aid their work in the traffic divisions. At the station, the officer was most helpful.
But I couldn't help but notice the BIG BOOK. Yes, that famous big book like the pastor's Bible in an old church. It would appear that taking statements was really an apprentice job in the force. It really seemed like punishment, similar to when teachers gave undisciplined students the same sentence to write multiple times.
In my view, we should have replaced the station diaries at least a decade ago. Nonetheless, credit is due to the former national security minister, Peter Bunting, who finally saw the need to replace the hard-copy station diaries with an electronic system.
Organisational change is often met with great resistance, and as such, the leadership of the force must have sought the necessary experts to guide the change process. Not surprising, this policy position to computerise the diaries was resisted by senior members of the force.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake explained that the JCF was trying to implement the electronic station diaries, but some members of the force were saying they didn't want to learn how to type. Did anybody think about the Mavis Beacon typing software?
Incidentally, it was the same experience when the Ministry of Education sought to implement the e-learning project with teachers. I wonder if any lessons were learnt that could have been shared between ministries.
Policy decisions require skilful consultation, communication, and strategic planning. I believe the JCF is compliant with the Government's Performance Management Appraisal System (PMAS). Let's be clear. The police PMAS system is more than measuring the number of tickets issued, which is usually the sore point for rank-and-file members. However, it is a comprehensive system that measures the performance of members of the JCF in alignment with the strategic priorities of the force.
It is unimaginable if the computerisation of the station diaries were not captured under the PMAS system. Like most organisations, if you want to get something done, it must first be on the work plan. In Jamaica, if it can't be measured, it will not get done. Period.
We know that the current system of reporting is time-consuming and tedious, adding to the stress level of our officers. I am also concerned about the privacy of the information that is recorded in the police bible. Essentially, anyone standing near the officer on duty can capture the information; in some cases, you have several reports being visible.
Thankfully, Hurricane Matthew missed us because some statements would have been irrecoverable had the dairies got wet. With an electronic system, it would be password-protected with individual user names. The data would also be backed up remotely.
Ultimately, the JCF would have a computer-based system to generate reports, facilitate data mining (facilitating greater information and intelligence), and share information with key operatives in the Ministry of National Security in real time. This system could also be integrated with the Stay Alert Application currently being used by the JCF. It must be noted that we have the technical skills in the civil service to undertake such a project.
Funding will always be a factor with any investment of this nature. However, the single most important consideration should be the value being added to the force.
The technocrats in the Ministry of Finance can compute the returns on investment. Worst-case scenario, the Ministry of National Security has a number of partners locally and internationally. A good proposal could attract funding for such a venture.
Besides, some of the savings from the used-vehicle initiative could also be used for this system. The learning curve for some officers will be of concern to the leadership of the JCF. However, with any new system, it will take time for users to become competent. Nonetheless, with the appropriate training interventions, it is possible in a short time.
We need a champion in the JCF to push for full integration of information and communication technologies in all areas of operation within the JCF.
I am hopeful that some day soon, a traffic accident report will be made available within a few days because the information is shared in real time with the divisional headquarters. No longer will criminals escape the police because their information was not readily available.
It's time to shake up the force. It's time to fight crime with technology.