Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
For many people living in Kingston's gritty, low-income communities, the level of trust for the police has never been high. In the West Kingston neighbourhood of Hannah Town, law enforcement is going all out to strengthen relations with residents through education.
On February 12, Inspector Oliver Humes and sergeant Annetta Newell of the Hannah Town police station opened the Hannah Town Learning Network Centre, to help lift the literacy standard in the area.
"That is a big problem (illiteracy) around here. We are trying to reach out to show them that there is more to life than gangs and guns," Newell told The Gleaner recently.
Ironically, the learning centre was scheduled to be officially launched on March 19, but a gunfight between police and gunmen in neighbouring Denham Town four days earlier forced a postponement.
A new date has not been set.
The learning centre is a renovated cell at the Hannah Town station.
Currently, it has 62 students who use three computers donated by the United Nations Development Programme.
Newell said the centre is open six days a week and closes at 10 p.m.
Students aged eight to 24 are eligible, but the response has been so enthusiastic that older persons have showed up at the station, eager to make use of the facility.
"We are not going to turn anybody away but there are only three computers, so we need a whole lot of help," Newell said.
Hostility to police remains
The presence of dilapidated buildings and unemployed youths hanging out on the corners of Hannah Town's streets, is typical of inner-city Kingston.
While acknowledging the positive gesture of Humes and Newell, many residents there remain hostile toward the police. This is due, they claim, to years of harassment and brutality.
"Yuh did have one superintendent over Denham Town wha' seh the only function fi keep over yah a nine night, so wi nuh inna nutt'n wid dem," said a buxom woman from Rose Lane, who refused to give her name.
Humes said he joined the Jamaica Constabulary Force 33 years ago and has served in some of the capital's toughest areas, including Denham Town where he was previously posted. He is familiar with such distrust, but said he has made an effort to establish a relationship with residents since moving to Hannah Town six months ago.
"I try and go out to the corners as much as possible and speak to residents, especially the youth," Humes said. "I tell them about the importance of learning a skill, getting a job."
Human rights group Amnesty International's annual reports consistently show that most questionable shootings by Jamaican police take place in some of Kingston's impoverished areas.
Since the 1990s, the police have tried to improve relations with inner-city communities by establishing youth clubs and participating in social events.