Mon | Nov 29, 2021

UPDATED: Horace Levy | Jamaicans deserve police reform and treatment as equal citizens

Published:Monday | April 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM

With the by-election in the past, the Government and Opposition must really now attend to the violence and murder addiction weighing heavily on our society and economy.

To situate present needed action, here is a list of the chief security actions of the 57 years since Independence.


1962: Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) modelled on North Ireland paramilitary inherited from 1867.

1968: Prime Minister Hugh Shearer – “Read no beatitudes, take no measurements”; that is, shoot before questions.

1974: Prime Minister Michael Manley – Gun Court, Suppression of Crime Acts give police power to search without warrant, bail limitations.

1983: Mobile Reserve established.


1991-92: Studies (for example, Hirst) & Wolff Commission (last of 10) recommend JCF reform & community betterment.

1993: Repeal of Suppression of Crime legislation as against Constitution.

1994: Community-based policing begun – police partnering with citizens not domineering; thousands trained.


1980s – early 2000s: A dozen special squads climaxed by the Crime Management Unit under Senior Superintendent of Police Renato Adams and its multiple killings at Braeton (2001) and Kraal (2003).


1997 & 2002: Prime Minister P.J. Patterson appoints national committees, whose reports condemn political tribalism and urge community empowerment.

2002: Civilian Peace Management Initiative established to address community violence mediating through violence interrupters.

2008: JCF Strategic Review outlines reform.


May 2010: State of emergency and incursion into western Kingston. At least 23, possibly 51, killed by soldiers and especially police.


October 2010: Prime Minister Bruce Golding establishes Independent Commission of Investigations to oversee JCF.

2014-16: West Kingston Commission of Enquiry exposes incursion crimes, calls for “radical new culture” in security forces, specific reforms, community building.


2017: Ministry of National Security issues five-pillar plan.

2017-19: Zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and states of emergency (SOE) and their extensions


2017: Major Organised Crime Agency separated from JCF.


The following points in the above list deserve note and comment.

1. As noted, two very different approaches to security have emerged – in part complementary, in part contradictory.

2. The chronology shows the approach in column 2 appearing from the 1990s. After 30 years of ‘hard policing’, correctives to its deficiencies and defects are tabled and urged, but implemented in practice with marginal impact.

This is not at all to deny that alongside the harsh paramilitary police behaviour of the first 30 years, there weren’t the old-time policemen, well respected and looked up to in communities. Not at all. But with repeal (1993) of the Suppression of Crimes Act and with restraint on the invasion of rights it encouraged, the special character of community-based policing is given needed explicit status and rightful place.

3. From several items in the above list and other information, it is clear that the combination of the two approaches, as structured, has not been effective. It’s not the combination that has not worked, but the lopsided over-reliance on ‘boots on the ground’. It is the weighting that must, therefore, be challenged. Except in platform talk, the inclusion of police reform and community building has been limited to small pockets, ignored or undermined.

In respect of police reform, the “radical new culture” called for by the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry is as remote as ever, likewise the multiple proposals set out in the Strategic Review of 2008. The promised new Police Service Act is miles away. In respect of community empowerment, the social intervention of the ZOSOs barely even scratches the surface.

4. So why this policy? To whose benefit? Clearly not to that of the communities – deprivation and trauma remain unrelieved. But as inequality has worsened, just as clearly it is the ‘haves’ who have prospered, the political class in particular. This, I prefer to think, has not been from evil intent but from the class position of decision-makers and from the motivation embedded in that position.

Class puts limits on understanding and interest. It shapes and is shaped by the social circumstances of family, schooling, work and residence. It shapes those born in or, by profession or good fortune, thrust into the class. The vision of the members of a class is that of their class, their concerns are those of their class, and these stress the benefit of the class. Only education or unusual experience or some strong motive ‘from outside’ is able to bring a different outlook and wider concern.


With this country divided into ‘two Jamaicas’, it is the class bias then of the decision-making ‘haves’ that determines priorities. These are always bent in the direction of maintaining their class position as power holders, and power is understood not as reason-sharing but as control, domination. This applies to political parties as well as individuals. It is from this class-determined perspective that the parties manage the country. So annual budgets regularly proclaim huge expenditures on highways, buildings, and security equipment, all undoubtedly needed. But also in oversized proportion to the human capital of the lower-income class.

New classrooms are often short of teachers qualified in math and science; the fewness of secondary-school counsellors and of trained basic-school teachers is shameful. New police stations go up for unreformed police. Another children’s hospital is to be built in the west, while every month for the past 18, five nurses fled abroad from St Ann’s Bay Hospital to escape pathetic wages and conditions.

Expenditure on physical capital brings quicker, more impressive and vote-catching results than trying to improve human capital, especially of lower-income people. Deprived communities? Assigned to barrel bottom. Police? Not even in second place to the military.

5. It is time, isn’t it, to try what has been neglected for 57 years. It would have to be in spite of the fact that delay in taking effective action is making SOEs and ZOSOs a very popular and election-winning policy. It shouldn’t be because the failure of our democratic governments to act decisively against murderous violence is fuelling demand from two-thirds of the population (the highest per cent in this Americas hemisphere) for effective action by undemocratic means, a military coup.

It ought to be because all Jamaicans deserve police reform and treatment as equal citizens. Wealth in Jamaica is enough to go around without robbing anything from the haves.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights advocate. Email feedback to and

(Editor's Note: In the editing process a previous version of this article incorrectly left out the phrase 'column 2' from point #2. The article also inaccurately stated that nurses fled abroad every month for the past 18 years. We regret the errors.)