Better late than never, if it is fact that it doesn't already happen in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
For we would have thought that with the long, ongoing discussion about transforming the JCF from a paramilitary force that acts with impunity, to a civil, accountable institution, psychometric testing at the time of recruitment, as well as periodic evaluation of members, would be routine for the constabulary. This would be building on the fine work already being done by the police chaplaincy, under the pioneering leadership of the Rev Dr Vivian Panton.
However, the national security ministry has reported that the Cabinet has approved a programme, presumably tabled by Peter Bunting, that will institute what we assumed was already taking place. It will also allow for the training of members of the constabulary to help identify emotionally stressed and/or at-risk colleagues.
We hope that the project is not merely a bit of chest-thumping on the part of Bunting, the security minister, in response to the public's outcry over last week's incident in Yallahs, St Thomas, in which a policeman shot dead a woman and shot and injured her sister. In that regard, we hope that the project actually starts and is a long-term success.
There are are many reasons why such an approach makes sense, not least the difficult circumstances under which police in Jamaica work, and our country's high rate of homicides. Even with the sharp drop in homicides over the past two years, our murder rate at around 45 per 100,000 is among the world's highest. Many hardened and armed criminals are not disinclined to confront law officers.
That is an environment and profession, therefore, in which high levels of stress would be reasonably expected.
It is not clear how much of this stress contributes to the other, and even darker, side of policing in Jamaica - an annual average of more than 200 police homicides, placing us near the top, on a nominal and per-capita basis, of the league table of police homicides. Rights groups characterise many of these killings as extrajudicial homicides.
Add to these the other stresses of living in Jamaica, once the policeman or woman takes off his or her uniform.
Against that backdrop, periodic psychological evaluation of people who carry guns, with responsibility for enforcing the law, and are often presumed - and presume themselves to be - above the law is logical.
PSYCHOLOGICAL DANGERS LURKED?
In the St Thomas case, for instance, the policeman who now stands accused of murder was, according to many persons, considered to be a decent human being and a community-oriented persons.
Who, however, knows what emotional and/or psychological dangers lurked below the surface and erupted in apparent rage when he was defied by someone who allegedly used indecent language?
Psychological evaluation of the members of the constabulary, however, is not the only issue here. Training and management are also important.
We have argued before that the constabulary must engage in the retraining of all its ranks in new, modern methods of civil policing, with emphasis on maintaining discipline and calm in difficult circumstances.
The process, too, has to ensure enhanced managerial skills. Many potentially explosive situations, we feel, can be defused by the skilful intervention of senior officers.
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