Ja­maica needs a mod­ern po­lice ser­vice

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

JA­MAICA HAS suf­fered from high lev­els of cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence for over 40 years, which has driven away hu­man and fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, cor­roded the fab­ric of so­ci­ety and un­der­mined hopes of devel­op­ment and pros­per­ity.

In other coun­tries, how­ever, the level of vi­o­lence has been fall­ing for decades. The num­ber of homi­cides in the USA in 2013 was lower than in the early 1960s; the num­ber in Ja­pan in 2013 was the low­est since the war; while in Eng­land, the level of vi­o­lence has fallen by two-thirds since 1995.

These coun­tries have im­ple­mented many re­forms, in­clud­ing bet­ter street light­ing, stronger se­cu­rity sys­tems for build­ings and ve­hi­cles, more CCTV cam­eras, and the re­place­ment of cash by elec­tronic trans­ac­tions. They have the will and the ca­pac­ity to fight cor­rup­tion, and the po­lice un­der­take reg­u­lar re­views of their strate­gies, tac­tics and or­gan­i­sa­tion to en­sure that they re­main fo­cused on re­duc­ing the most dam­ag­ing forms of crime.

So why can­not Ja­maica do the same? Why has Ja­maica failed to deal with its most ru­inous and deadly prob­lem?

The Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force (JCF) is of­ten crit­i­cised for fail­ing to deal ef­fec­tively with the cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence that do such ap­palling dam­age to Ja­maica, but they are not al­ways to blame be­cause the po­lice force is just one part of the sys­tem of law and jus­tice.

There are ma­jor prob­lems in Par­lia­ment, which de­ter­mines the leg­isla­tive frame­work for jus­tice and law en­force­ment. Re­cent al­le­ga­tions about the in­volve­ment of a for­mer min­is­ter in mur­ders, about bribes taken by politi­cians and the ap­par­ent dis­ap­pear­ance of funds do­nated to a po­lit­i­cal party, sug­gest that our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is still com­pro­mised by links to or­gan­ised crime.

There are also se­ri­ous prob­lems in the ju­di­cial sys­tem, which judges the ac­cused and sen­tences the guilty. It ap­pears to be largely in­ca­pable of de­liv­er­ing speedy and ef­fi­cient jus­tice. In­ter­minable de­lays and an un­man­age­able back­log of cases in the courts mean that many cases – even the most se­ri­ous – can take years to com­plete.

How­ever, some part of the fault does lie with the JCF. Some peo­ple think that the prob­lem is that there are too many bad cops, but the JCF is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ef­fec­tive at weed­ing out those with crim­i­nal con­nec­tions.


The real prob­lem is sim­pler, less dra­matic, but no less dam­ag­ing. The JCF is still us­ing an­ti­quated man­age­ment sys­tems and tech­nolo­gies that can­not sup­port mod­ern polic­ing. This has greatly re­duced its abil­ity to deal with crime. Here are some of the find­ings from sev­eral re­cent re­views of the JCF.

A large part of the JCF’s ve­hi­cle fleet is off the road at any one time be­cause of the lack of proper main­te­nance, which is why some sta­tions don’t have ve­hi­cles.

Dis­patch­ers can­not send the near­est ve­hi­cle to a crime scene be­cause most of the fleet has still not been fit­ted with track­ers. This is why the po­lice some­times take a long time to re­spond to calls for help.

The JCF has not mod­ernised its shift sys­tem. Most shoot­ings down­town oc­cur be­tween 5.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m., but fewer po­lice are on duty at that time be­cause most po­lice still go home at the same time as ev­ery­one else.

Many crimes are still recorded only in sta­tion di­aries. This means that crime pat­terns can­not be dis­cov­ered with­out la­bo­ri­ous, man­ual search­ing.

The JCF does not have a sys­tem for re­as­sign­ing their as­sets on the ba­sis of strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. As a re­sult, there are no po­lice posts in many of the high-crime com­mu­ni­ties.

All these fail­ings – and many oth­ers – have the same un­der­ly­ing cause. The JCF is still us­ing old sys­tems and prac­tices that are no longer fit for pur­pose, and its en­trenched cul­ture has re­sisted pres­sure to change. With a strong pro­gramme of re­form and tech­no­log­i­cal up­grades, the JCF could rapidly im­ple­ment the nec­es­sary changes and could then give Ja­maica the com­pe­tent, ef­fi­cient po­lice ser­vice that it so badly needs.

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