‘Misplaced priority’ - Bunting urges focus on building JCF over JDF in plans to tackle crime
Government’s push to increase the numbers within the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is being described by People’s National Party (PNP) leadership aspirant Peter Bunting as the wrong focus in its bid to tamp down the island’s crime scourge.
“I think it is a misplaced priority. Maybe you could increase the size of the JDF by 25 per cent … it could have used beefing up. But, that’s a military force. They are not primarily designed or trained for policing. Yes, we have used them in support of policing, but that’s not their primary training,” said Bunting as he addressed a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week.
According to Bunting, it would make better sense to increase the numbers and resources within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
“If we are increasing the JDF by 5,000 people, I think it would be much better to increase the JCF by 5,000 persons who are trained for civilian-type duties. Increase the civilian-type policeman in inner-communities where the same guy, not with an M16 rifle and ballistic gear, but in the traditional blue and red seam, engages as part of the community,” he argued while speaking at The Gleaner’s North Street, Kingston, offices last Thursday.
“Yes, the JCF has real problems, but let’s focus on fixing that and putting in the resource and the managers. You can bring in professional managers from the private sector, for example, to manage a police fleet, the call centres, to manage the physical plant,” he said.
...GOLDING STANDS WITH BUNTING ON CRIME STANCE
Mark Golding, member of parliament for South St Andrew, is agreeing with challenger for the leadership of the People’s National Party, Peter Bunting, that beefing up the military is not the best approach to fighting crime.
“We believe the whole question of how you approach crime and violence and corruption in the country is fundamental to the future and to the growth prospects of the country. We don’t think that the key to that is necessarily building out the military,” Golding said as he addressed a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday, at which Bunting made his case for leading the party.
“We think the key to that is how you can empower youths and get them away from an attraction towards the gun and a life around a gun towards other things,” he continued.
Bigger Army footprint
Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, earlier this year announced plans to expand the Jamaica Defence Force from 6,000 to 10,000 – not including the reserves – as part of a greater vision of an army with a bigger footprint across Jamaica.
Meade said the ramping up of the numbers would occur as the JDF builds out more infrastructure across the island in a bid to accommodate the growing needs and widening mandate of soldiers.
“What I’m setting out to do ... is to increase the size of the force, but also to have a robust number of troops permanently located in three regions of the country,” he said, noting that there would be at least a battalion – between 600 and 1,000 soldiers – in each region.
“In the medium term, within the next five to 10 years, we will have infrastructure all over the country where people in western Jamaica can live, work, and train there and will not have to come to Kingston for everything,” he added.
The army has bolstered the presence of the police in zones of special operations and in states of emergency, tools used by the Holness administration since 2017 to quell rising levels of criminal violence.