Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Insecurity of government workers

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM
A policeman prepares to swing his baton to disperse looters on the scene of an accident in which a truck transporting Heineken beer overturned along the Linstead Bypass, St Catherine, in March 2010. A cop's job is a high-stress nightmare, Orville Taylor writes.-File

Orville Taylor,  Contributor

In real terms, there is going to be a wage freeze for the next three years, and in fact, unless the Government is going to wave a magic wand and turn the economy around faster than a broken promise, workers in the public sector are going to experience a progressive decline in their standard of living - for the rest of this political regime.

In 2011, there were 140,100 public-sector employees. By October 2012, this number had increased to 144,600. It is not known how many government posts are going to be retrenched, rationalised, made redundant or any other Rs they are going to be told of or themselves express. However, as Government moves towards a leaner bureaucracy, fewer people will be doing more work.

For those in positions that can be described as public functionaries, that is precisely what the new austerity measures relating to the International Monetary Fund agreement are likely to mean.

However, there are critical groups that are most vulnerable. Among these are the air-traffic controllers, motor-vehicle examiners and, of course, the medical personnel, who are never at full complement, plus the firefighters, the military and the police.

Ailing Police Force

Chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Sgt Raymond Wilson, made a revelation last Wednesday, on the talk show I host, that members of the constabulary had a higher-than-average incidence of lifestyle diseases, when compared to the national average. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiac arrest, stroke, and other debilitating illnesses all occur with greater frequency among Officers Dibble and Dibblisha, according to Wilson. This reprises his comments last year that of the 460 cops listed as members of the federation who died between 2001 and June 1, 2012, some 247 died as a result of chronic illnesses.

Not having seen the study myself, I cannot automatically agree with him that it is because of the conditions under which they work. And, of course, being the advocate he is, he outlined the myriad difficulties he and his colleagues face, including spending close to one-fourth of their salaries just to do the Government's work. Nonetheless, there is international evidence that stress is a major factor which leads to all of these chronic and other unmentioned medical conditions. And police do work under very stressful conditions, especially when they know that they are constantly under threat by malevolent forces, as well as some self-created enemies.

A study from the State University of New York at Buffalo "found the average age of death for police officers was 66 years, compared to the general population average of 75 years". Similarly, Italian police, in another study, had much higher rates of colon and bladder cancers, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and melanoma. Similarly, officers who do patrol and motorcycle duties had even higher prevalence of these cancers.

Other data related to their stress have to do with the fragility of their relationships, spousal abuse, receiving and giving 'bun' outside of Easter and exemplifying why a paramour is called mi-stress. But more anon.

Police are not the only ones who work under high stress. After having my mother admitted at the Kingston Public Hospital for more than a week, I was privileged to get an inside scoop on the challenges our doctors and nurses face. It was particularly touching to see young doctors working beyond 12-hour shifts, wearing the same clothing that they were dressed in when I left after the close of the 4-6 p.m. visiting period the following day when I arrived for the morning visit.

Studies carried out by the International Labour Organisation in the past decade have pointed to the very dangerous implications of persons who work in essential services and their diminished capacity to carry out their duties effectively. The series of studies of which the Jamaican flexitime study was part in 2003 also pointed to these consequences for Jamaican workers.

Nevertheless, there is one thing about police personnel which sets them apart from other essential service workers: they do not stop being police at any point in their lives. It is true that doctors remain part of their professions after retirement and even a drunken retired lawyer or judge is still a member of the bar even if he falls off the bench.

ENEMIES REMAIN

Police, however, suffer the double jeopardy of no longer being a member of the force and thus being stripped of all their arresting powers, while still having the slate of enemies that they built up during the 33 1⁄3 years of service.

Indeed, some of the men and women in blue deserve the level of animosity that they face because many of them are pure unadulterated criminals. Murderers, crooks, extortionists, beggars and liars all populate the hallowed rank and file and officer corps of the JCF and its auxiliaries.

Despite the advent of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), Bureau of Special Investigation, 1-888-CORRUPT and other organs, and the fact that police colleagues are often their worst enemies, lots of lies are told. It is with some amusement that one notes the research that shows a direct relationship exists between lying and other stress indicators. Thus, there is a proven medical relationship between being wicked and suffering physically. Literally, 'bad-mindedness' and wickedness are killing some police.

Still, those of us who understand the golden rule about doing unto others as one wants them to do to you, fully comprehend repercussions. In a society where enslaved Africans used to spit in Bucky Massa's food and water, poison his meals and slip anti-aphrodisiacs in his coffee, policemen and women need to recognise that people will kill not only parts of the body, because they have been wronged and abused or even had their friends and family killed or otherwise victimised by the police. It is thus important to be fair and above board, even when dealing with the most vicious of criminal suspects, because the law, police procedures and use of force policy are all designed to protect the police as well.

OFF-Duty DILEMMA

Nevertheless, given that the majority of police personnel who are killed are murdered while 'off duty', such as the case of the recently slain Detective Corporal Courtnie Simpson, who had just completed his shift, protecting Junior Minister Julian Robinson. Wilson asked for more social protection for his members, and he is absolutely right. There is little protection that a deceased policeman or woman needs. However, his or her family and dependents have to be taken care of. The present policy seems to point to circumstances where the policeman/woman was murdered while on active duty. What are the parameters when she or he is going to work at 8 a.m. but is struck by a motor car at 7:45 en route?

The recent murders of retired Senior Superintendent of Police Tony Hewitt and Superintendent Roy 'Denzil' Boyd now point to a paradigm shift. The debate has long gone past whether officers such as Simpson should be treated as being on duty. Only one who doesn't want to soil brain tissue would even wish to argue against that. Wilson needs to take the argument to National Security Minister Peter Bunting that retired police are also just as vulnerable and should be covered. This kind of social protection is not unknown, even in this country.

Such a move, as Government seeks to tinker with its workers' pensions, would show how it puts people first.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com andtayloronblackline@hotmail.com.