Thu | Nov 15, 2018

JCF proving a spent force

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ronald Mason

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been a feature of our country for more than 140 years. There was a period when the members of the force were recruited from across the socio-economic spectrum. The force, as a unit, was respected more than feared.

This is not the circumstance now. It is rare to have a middle- or upper-class young person express an admiration for the force. It is known and accepted that the force has members who have gained advanced degrees, however, the anecdotes suggest that the social graces are not very prevalent. I do not recall any recent public pronouncement of a 'Police Gala Ball'. This would exist primarily for public-relations value. If such an occasion has been held in recent times, I am willing to acknowledge same.

At this stage, the statistics, dripping with blood, show that every other day for the past 14 years, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has killed a fellow citizen. This is frightening. More than 2,000 persons killed. All of these incidents have not been murder, but every one is a homicide. If the JCF reflects our society, let us display this to the public at large. Somehow, I wonder if a contributing factor to the less-than-stellar outcome of late Commissioner Trevor McMillan would be attributed to socio-economic factors.

In contrast, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is still an attractive option for those who are marginally respected in the JCF. One needs to think on these things.

Jamaica needs a new policing organisation - one that's truly reflective of the 'Out of Many' attestation. Let us boost the aspiration for any and all persons to become a police officer. We must start with the recruits.

Go into all the high schools and have recruiting fairs. Preach the gospel of careers to be had in the force. Get to the youngsters who have the facility to be groomed for service to the country. It is my opinion that the members of the JCF are those whose job options are limited, so it becomes an organisation of last resort.

In addition, it is a large employer - 12,500-plus persons, so there is always attrition in large numbers. Do we now recruit with the expectation that the JCF would be an employer of first career choice, comparable to the JDF? We have police, military patrols, that have been recruited from the same national pool. Is it that the JDF has institutionalised its process with well-defined selection criteria?

This proposed redo of the JCF is a massive undertaking. Should it be done through attrition? I would suggest not, that would drag it out for too long. A phased process of doing it over a five-year period would be worth modelling. However, the model for change once decided, will require some sweeping ancillary changes.

The uniforms, name, colour codes and training are part optics, but would be absolutely essential. The people of Jamaica need to begin a new relationship with a police organisation that will be fundamentally one of service and not be an occupying force in our communities. Trust must be integrated as a dominant feature.

Use the new organisation as a vehicle to arrest urban drift. Recruit persons who live in the countryside and make them stay there. The command structure may have to be national, but the service should be local. At this time, the police are not seen as having the local contact, except for the district constables. "Miss Brown does not recognise the young police person as being her church sister's last pickney. She is thus denied the opportunity to say something to her church sister of multiple years who will whisper it to her police son or daughter. Imagine the police son or daughter being told something by his/her mother, aunt, father or own brother/sister. What does that do to the 'informa-fi-dead' culture?

The local police officer serving his own community may just be hesitant to contribute to extra-judicial killings, which are prevalent today. The police may even be inclined to take the report from the scantily clad woman rather than rebuff her and send her home to be killed. The police may even be an appropriate role model for the potentially wayward youth, whom he/she has observed making inappropriate choices. The police are to serve, reassure and protect, not kill or arrange to kill someone every other day.

All of this will cost a lot of dollars. It will reorient an industry that employs thousands as security guards. It will provide a tangible method to recreate trust and a sense of pride forged from nationalism.

The cost must be thought of in the growth of GDP. As of now, the widespread criminal action is costing the country five percentage GDP growth each year. This type of economic growth has not been seen in Jamaica with any regularity for decades. Growth of this size will increase revenue, add permanent jobs, and increase the delivery of goods and services to all citizens.

Crime is a major problem. Policing is a problem. Yet it is the line that saves us today from anarchy, but it is not at all delivering the benefits of a competent police service. Let us all get to work on a police service that we all can be proud of.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator, and talk-show host. Supreme Court