Mon | Oct 25, 2021

Hardley Lewin | Rethinking policing in Jamaica – Part II

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2021 | 12:11 AM

In this file photo, police patrol Barry Street on bicycles in downtown Kingston. There is an urgency to increase the number of boots on the ground, i.e., increasing the number of officers available for territorial policing duties in the short/medium term.
In this file photo, police patrol Barry Street on bicycles in downtown Kingston. There is an urgency to increase the number of boots on the ground, i.e., increasing the number of officers available for territorial policing duties in the short/medium term.
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin

The urgency of now requires that ways be found to increase the number of boots on the ground, i.e., increasing the number of officers available for territorial policing duties in the short/medium term. The only way to achieve this is by increasing the numbers from within. Ever wondered where all those officers you see in the plazas at Christmastime all bunched together in groups of up to six at a time come from? Ever wondered what happens to them after Christmas?

These are officers who are employed in offices, administrative functions, training establishments, and who the commissioner directs into policing functions to boost the numbers and improve safety during the Yuletide season. These are trained, experienced officers whose expertise is not brought to bear towards their core function. Any post or job in the JCF, where you do not require the powers of a constable to carry out that job, can be done by a civilian. Here is how we boost the numbers.


There are too many police officers employed in jobs that civilians in overstaffed ministries and agencies of government can do. A police officer with all the investment made into their training is too valuable an asset to employ in non-core policing functions. If a programme of civilianisation is aggressively pursued, you should find roughly 750 additional officers for front-line duties.


The Rural Police (District Constable) should be increased in a serious way and employed in the manner that was originally intended by the act. Communities in rural areas should be targeted and local residents who are qualified and willing can be trained and employed in community policing duties within their communities. They will play a major role in pre-empting and resolving conflicts within their communities in addition to maintaining law and order. They can be a tremendous force multiplier.


The police must get out of the business of holding detainees at police lock-ups for more than 24 hours. This is a major distraction from their core policing function. Appropriate detention/remand centres manned by the Correctional Services should be established at a few locations in the island, and preferably in proximity to the parish courts.


There are a number of private security response teams that, from all appearances, seem well equipped, well managed and who carry out their duties professionally. They are forward deployed within or in proximity to commercial and residential clients. It is not uncommon to see private security response teams at crime scenes, and who in fact might be better poised to respond to a given scenario. Maybe the time has come to examine that relationship between the private security response teams and the constabulary with a view to finding ways to formally work together.


Are there officers who have served honourably and are willing to give further service on a part-time as available basis? Efforts should be made to identify such individuals for recruitment. The immediate pathway into service would be through the district constable process, but downstream we should look at establishing a police reserve service. The Island Special Constabulary Force was that reserve force, which over time morphed into a full-time service, and it was a good decision to merge it into the JCF.


With the careful employment of these measures, it is possible to see the steady march of additional boots on the ground. It should be remembered that boots on the ground is only one element of a menu of things to be tackled if we ever hope to have sustained reductions in crime. There is no doubt that there is a crisis of confidence, specifically a lack thereof, in government and the security forces, and maybe even in ourselves to get anything right. We need a victory, we need a sign that we can indeed fight back and win. Let us take one problem, the indiscipline, mayhem, disorder and chaos on our roads and public spaces.

When the newly organised Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch was rolled out some two years ago with those brand new shiny neon coloured bikes, I, like many others, was elated. It did not take long before we were left wondering, what happened? I still believe that this area is a prime target to get some serious work done with a view to giving us all a victory and restoring some confidence. Remembering that criminality thrives in an environment of chaos and disorder, I say let us go for it and reap the rewards.

It has been well recognised and accepted that the size of the JCF in relation to population is inadequate. To exacerbate the problem, a high proportion of officers are employed in jobs that do not require the job holder to have the powers of a constable. Such posts should be filled by qualified civilians from within the civil service to free up those officers to perform core policing functions. Actions must be taken to immediately begin to improve the terms and conditions of service within the JCF to attract some who have left to re-enlist, to improve retention and to attract new recruits. Having attracted new recruits, we must employ new thinking with a view to increasing the training throughputs.


Is there a plan, where is the plan? This has been the cry for many years and an issue that has detained us for far too long. To begin with, I do not like the title ‘Crime Plan’. When I hear these words I immediately think of a Crime Plan as a plan devised by criminals to commit crimes against the citizens of this country. Let me try and bring some sense to all the nonsense that has been spouted from many quarters.

When citizens ask and make demands for a crime plan, what they are actually seeking is what I prefer to call a ‘Policing Plan’. A policing plan is a plan devised by the police with the input of the citizens they serve. The policing plan sets out in some detail how the police intend to deliver policing services, i.e., how they intend to serve, protect and reassure. It is rooted in the philosophy of community policing and is a covenant between the police and the citizens. When developed, it is a public document that should be readily accessible on the police’s website and in public spaces such as post offices.

Such policing plans do not exist and have never existed. What we have is a plethora of operational and strategic initiatives and interventions that can and sometimes do have an impact in reducing the levels of crime. These are served up from time to time as crime plans.

In 2007, the first National Security Strategy – Towards a Secure and Prosperous Nation was crafted and published. This document was refreshed and republished in 2013. The JCF used to, and probably still do, publish their Corporate Strategy every three years. I have heard snippets of information which would suggest that the Government is preparing another National Security Strategy subtitled Plan Secure Jamaica. The public is generally disengaged from these documents and only the serious researcher or security practitioner would show any interest in them. These are all broad strategic plans which set out the government’s policies and plans to bring together all the elements of the state to tackle a wide range of security issues in a coordinated manner. They are neither crime plans nor policing plans and must not be presented as such.

Let us start the process of developing policing plans for every police territorial and other formations. The policing plans, that contract between the police and the public whom they serve can only help in that endeavour of mutual confidence building.

- Rear Admiral (Rtd) Hardley Lewin served for 36 years in the Jamaica Defence Force, the last five as its Chief of Staff. He went on to serve as Commissioner of Police of the Jamaica Constabulary Force for two years. Send feedback to