Sat | Oct 1, 2022

Garth Rattray | Evolution of the JCF (Part 1)

Published:Sunday | August 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

A member of one of my WhatsApp groups posted an old picture of a Jamaican policeman standing at attention with a cap on his flexed left forearm. He was dressed in a light-grey, pinstriped shirt, the customary belt, a pair of dark-coloured shorts, high socks, garters and brown shoes. There was no radio, baton, handcuffs or firearm. The humorous caption read, "If dem did still dress so, dem woulda have mannas."

It was funny and got a lot of quippy comments, but it led me to look at the various clothing and gear used by our police over the years. The constabulary has moved from that kind of juvenile-looking uniform with no equipment, to a basic uniform of long pants and a baton, to the same uniform with a side arm and handcuffs.

But now, many wear ballistic vests on routine duty and carry a radio and a pistol. Sometimes, at least one member of regular patrols carries a high-powered rifle. Police teams dispatched to high-risk areas dress like heavily armed military personnel and sometimes need protection from an armoured vehicle.

When trying to explain our body's response to disease, I often liken our immune system to the constabulary. If, for instance, we find antibodies to infection or an alteration of a certain kind of white blood cell, we know that the body is in a fight against bacteria, viruses or fungi. The same holds true for the constabulary. The organisation must adjust, respond and evolve to deal with the escalating levels and increasing complexity of all kinds of crime if it is to continue protecting us.

From the perspective of those only focused on berating the constabulary and not keeping in mind that the organisation is simply evolving to keep up with our ever-changing society, the dress and equipment might appear as if the constabulary is becoming more and more militant and aggressive.




Some silly people might even call for a watered-down constabulary in the misguided hope that the criminals will respond by tamping down their evil deeds. This incredibly ridiculous, airy-fairy thinking fails to acknowledge the obvious fact that the appearance of the constabulary mirrors the need to respond/adapt appropriately to the criminal landscape.

There is always a lag between increased criminal weaponry and/or sophistication and the constabulary's equipment upgrade. Many years ago (in the early 1980s), I had a friend in the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who used to joke that if criminals happened to escape down Jacques Road (off Mountain View Avenue), the ill-equipped police of that time would dare not continue pursuit but would, instead, shout at them, "All right ... all right ... next time ... next time!"

And, when my friend entered the road inside a JDF armoured personnel carrier (APC), there was a steady, scary sound of bullets ricocheting off the exterior of the vehicle. If it were not for the APC, venturing into a hot zone like Jacques Road would mean certain death.

Then there was the elusive, infamous and almost mythical 'Whaddatt'. It was either transported from place to place, or there were at least two of them. I'm guessing that they were .50-calibre weapons capable of cutting a human being in half with one shot. The Whaddatt let out a thunderous boom when fired, quite distinct from the crack of regular rifles. It was intimidating.

Then, there was a weapon in Central Village (St Catherine). I vividly recall an elderly patient of mine who told me that she missed her appointment because, on that morning, she dared not leave her home because a 'war' developed between two rival gangs in the area. She described how a young man mounted a big gun on a "stand" right on the street in front of her house. She said that he "turned it on" and it was extremely loud and emitted a lot of smoke. Without knowing it, she was describing a battery-operated variant of the multi-barrelled Gatling gun!

Countless determined and dangerous criminals possess a wide assortment of formidable weapons and employ various techniques to rob and fleece the citizenry. The police had to respond by evolving from that unarmed, short-panted constable into an ever-vigilant, battle-ready protector. More next week.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and