Sun | Jan 29, 2023

Alfred Dawes | Audit the police!

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2022 | 12:45 AM

In 2015, as the president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA), I spoke out about the dangerous conditions in the health sector. Many chastised me as a political activist and, at best, an alarmist. After all, how was it possible that...

In 2015, as the president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA), I spoke out about the dangerous conditions in the health sector. Many chastised me as a political activist and, at best, an alarmist. After all, how was it possible that the powers that be could not be aware of the situation in the nation’s health facilities? Reports and meetings were built into the system to ensure that the very issues that the JMDA pointed out were addressed at the appropriate level. Our claims stunned the country as much as the senior officials at the Ministry of Health.

Then Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson made a decision that changed the course of the public health system for the better. He ordered an audit of all four regional health authorities. The claims made were not dismissed. We were not threatened. The review of the sector that ultimately confirmed our statements was done, and formed the basis for future periodic reviews that continue to this day.

This decision for an audit to assess the veracity claims made by those in the trenches, of a chronic lack of resources that hampers the effective functioning of the service, contrasts with what obtains with the chairman of the Police Federation, Corporal Rohan James.

In a no-holds-barred interview recently, Corporal James stressed that rank and file members of the force cannot carry out their duties because of poor supplies. He describes officers’ hands being tied by lack of even police radios and vests. Non-functional service vehicles as a result of no engine oil, no stationery to prepare reports, and no bathroom facilities or lighted tents in SOEs, are some of the crippling deficiencies highlighted. If his words are true, then there will be no reduction in crime until these low-hanging and glaring deficiencies are corrected. Where his experience departs from that of the JMDA is that the corporal reports that he was threatened by a senior official in the Ministry of National Security with a lawsuit if he didn’t retract his statements.

It is unfortunate, if true, that the Ministry of National Security has adopted this defensive stance rather than to order an independent audit to investigate his claims. It appears that circling the wagons until the nine-day wonder dies down is more important than addressing concerns about issues that hamper the police’s efforts to tackle the crime monster. What is even more unfortunate is that such an important news item has been ignored by the mainstream media. It appears the only newsworthy stories about crime revolve around the states of emergency (SOEs) and the soaring murder rate. Chasing scandals trumps good investigative journalism and highlighting newsworthy revelations on any given Sunday.

REFORM JUSTICE SYSTEM

One can only hope that the corporal stands his ground and demands an audit into the conditions under which his Federation’s members are working. He has to do it because we the people have abandoned him. Preferring instead to draw lines dividing us into who support or opposes SOEs, we have been successfully corralled into a pen. A pen that focuses only on SOEs as the solution to crime, or not. The discussion has been steered away from the badly needed reform of the justice system and based on the corporal’s revelations, the constabulary force.

How did we get here? How did we allow ourselves to be manipulated into diametrically opposite factions in the SOE religion? We all know of the link between politics and organised crime. We know that strengthened proceeds of crime act will go a long way in sucking the profits out of crime and nab the major funders of the foot soldiers. But the conversation has been steered away from those discussions because they would not only disrupt gangs, but also the political machineries needed to attain and maintain state power.

Why this obsession with SOEs as a short-term fix going on over five years now?

Why not implement intelligence-led task force with well-trained, experienced and well-equipped law enforcement personnel that targets violence producers and hardened criminals via spear fishing rather than SOE style net fishing? Why no discussions on Proximity Policing, which is a form of community-based policing that emphasises partnership with community members and stakeholders? It works, in Jamaica!

As a country, we need to end this pro and anti-SOE conversation and demand that meaningful and deliberate steps be taken to fix the systemic problems that lead to violent crime. We should support Corporal James and demand that an audit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force be conducted to see what needs to be fixed, to allow the police officers to carry out their duties. With hundreds of millions of dollars spent on SOEs since 2017, one wonders if the return on investment would not have been greater fixing the ills described.

But we won’t demand the audit even though we saw the benefits for healthcare because we are too content stoking our divisions. It is for that reason why people do not speak out, because they are left at the mercy of a vengeful system after the story dies down.

This apathy and inertia will continue to define this generation as we sink deeper into the abyss. It is hard not to say that we deserve everything that is happening to us now. It is the future generations for which my heart weeps. They don’t deserve the Jamaica we are creating for them. They, the auditors of our generation, will not be kind to our legacy.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and alfred.dawes@gmail.com.