Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Community policing in Jamaica

Published:Saturday | February 14, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator

WESTERN BUREAU:There have been several bodies of research published over the last several years by entities, including the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), which have determined that community policing is crucial to crime prevention within the island.

The JCF's corporate strategy mandates the employment of community policing in its crime-fighting efforts. In its description of community policing on its official website, the JCF notes that "the traditional style of policing used in Jamaica and many other countries for many years is not suitable to deliver modern policing and community safety services".

"The demands of our modern age require that the police act in partnership with the public and with other public, private, and voluntary-sector organisations to deliver collaborative services that address crime, fear of crime, and other safety issues which concern communities. Community policing is central to the concept of community safety," the JCF stated.

One research paper titled Securing Communities and Transforming Policing Cultures: A Desk Study of Community Policing in Jamaica, which was conducted by the Overseas Development Institute, a United Kingdom-based independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues, noted that "community policing in Jamaica has been shaped by a number of contextual factors, including, in particular, high levels of violent crime, which have been fuelled by socio-economic problems.

"This has encouraged the continuation of paramilitary styles of policing that emerged from histories of slavery and colonialism and has perpetuated a deep mistrust in the police among many community members, especially in the urban communities most affected by crime. High levels of violent crime and police corruption have weakened police-community relations and meant that reliance on informal security structures has become ingrained in local cultures of protection," the ODI noted.

policing culture

The study, which was published in May 2014, also noted that community policing is also yet to transform policing culture in Jamaica, which remains primarily paramilitary in nature.

"While community policing is supposed to be a force-wide philosophy and not a specialist function in the JCF, in practice, this has not been the case. Instead, it has largely been carried out by dedicated Community Security and Safety Branch officers who work in close collaboration with residents of the communities they are posted to, with a stated remit to concentrate on proactive, practical problem-solving," it said.

Another report produced in 2008 for the JCF and the United States Agency for International Development titled Jamaica Community-based Policing Assessment, noted that personal safety is a primary concern for many Jamaicans, and reducing the country's high rates of violent crime has been, and continues to be, a challenge for the Government of Jamaica and the JCF. The report also said that for the past 10 years, community-based policing has been an espoused policy of the JCF, with several past attempts at implementation.

The authors of the report also said anecdotal evidence, along with widespread agreement between residents and the police, support the idea that a major contributor to reduced levels of violence has been the change in the attitude and increased presence of police and that police presence, along with communication and respect for citizens, were the primary ingredients.

They concluded, among other things, that dramatic improvements in police-community relationships can take root over a relatively short time in small, troubled communities "if police change their attitude".