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Orville Taylor | Words to the Police Federation

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Because of all the persons involved, it would have been inappropriate for me to describe the internal rumblings of the Jamaica Police Federation (JPF) over the last year as a cockfight. But thankfully, the dust has settled, the Federation has elected its new executive and the officers can go about their real business – the promotion of the interests of the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Congratulations to the new chairman, Sergeant Patrae Rowe; and new general secretary, Constable Tameca Thomas, who has kept the gender balance intact. Importantly, Corporal Arleen McBean, although losing the chairmanship, was stoic and dignified. Kudos to all, because they recognise that rules are rules, and the constabulary must be exemplary in following their own by-laws.

In a country with the highest rate of police officers being murdered in the English-speaking world, the police have many enemies from criminal elements, many of whom rub shoulders with ‘decent’ citizens. Believe me, there is enough criminality and corruption to go around, and neither industry, media nor the academy is exempt. Indeed, the link between politics, corruption, and criminality is well known. Therefore, by smelling the rope one knows that a ‘ram’ goat was tied to it. Yet sadly, just like many of the other institutions on this former plantation island, the JCF has had too many enemies from within.

The den of corruption

Now, don’t be mistaken, this is not an addition to the baseless narrative that the House of Babylon is a den of corruption and human-rights abuse. Doubtless, there are thugs within the Force, many of whom came into the organisation with a mind full of evil intentions and even felonious antecedents. Some, of course, would have learned from their dirty colleagues, who are very much like Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day.

We don’t know how Denzel’s character became corrupted, but what we know is that he became head of a squad of hard-nosed criminals who posed like legitimate policemen, but everyone on the street knew what they really were. Yet, what was good about the movie was that one individual, who refused to bow to the pressure and attempts on his life, fought and was able to take him down.

Importantly, what mattered was this one single naïve idealist, who simply believed in doing what was right, lawful, and consistent with the rules of the organisation, stood his ground and eventually the community, which Denzel and his cronies held in a reign of quiet fear and oppression, eventually rose up against him.

What I like about the JCF is that despite the narrative of the majority of cops in Jamaica being crooks, there could be nothing farther from the truth. With the conviction of Constable Chucky Brown in a classic case of ‘cock mouth killing cock’, and the ongoing investigation regarding the officers from the Mobile Reserve Division, the Force is in very dark days. It certainly did not help that three officers were convicted by a jury of manslaughter in the killing of Vanessa Kirkland, a 16-year-old child.

This last matter is particularly painful from all sides, because a child was killed unintentionally by the police. Still, other elements of this matter sit very uncomfortably with me and not just because I dislike jury trials. But because there have been cases with greater malice, where convicts have been given much lighter sentences.

Nonetheless, the point I wish to make is that despite these examples of police running afoul of the law, the overwhelming majority of cops in Jamaica are decent, hard-working, and overworked. Moreover, there is no institution, including schools and universities, which has the level of scrutiny or has made as much attempt to purge as the JCF over the past decade. However, being relics of the plantation system, like everything else in our country, the JCF has members who fail to appreciate their colleagues’ worth, and refuse to acknowledge credit for what their peers do. Thus, the failure to unite against a common enemy only empowers the evil men and women who lurk and prey on society.

A lack of focus by the leadership and insensitivity of the political hierarchy over the past few decades have caused them to not place great weight on post-service social protection and security. Police officers have higher-than-average rates of lifestyle diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiac illness, and other non-fatal but socially stigmatising conditions. Coupled with a meagre pension, many retired senior policemen have difficulty keeping a livelihood.

BETTER PENSION PLANNING

Still, having listened to the prime minister and commissioner of police speak at the recently concluded JPF conference, my suspicion is that finally some sore areas are going to be addressed. For example, given that police officers live more stressful and shorter lives, it makes perfect sense that they should be able to retire earlier than other public officers, and collect full pensions. Also, this country needs serious pension planning as our population grows older and lives longer. Given that the majority of their ailments arise from their jobs, it’s logical that some post-service health insurance be factored in.

Another no-brainer is provision for some compensation for police officers who are killed or maimed, when not ‘on duty’. It is disingenuous and duplicitous that Officer Dibble can face charges of being derelict if he fails to act where a crime is taking place, even if he is off duty, having wine at home or eating at his regular nook and cranny. Yet he is considered not at work for purposes of compensation when hurt.

In fact, every police officer who is attacked by criminals (excluding domestic situations) after they retire, should be deemed to have been victimised because of their past police service, because the malice of the criminals towards them does not retire after they do.

But police must face up for themselves; not face down, because only they can truly fight their own cause. Who feel it, know it.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.