The JCF of the past can't fight today's crime

Letters to the Editor

The JCF of the past can't fight today's crime

Thursday, July 30, 2020

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Dear Editor,

If we learn anything from our history we can conclude that the recently announced National Consensus on Crime will fail to reduce our murder rate. This will be the 56th of such reports/plans aimed at reforming the Jamaica Constabulary Force and reducing violent crimes.

The first was written by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in 1888, the founder of the Scout Movement. All these reports have avoided — at our peril — the persisting structural framework of the JCF designed in 1867 to suppress an expected islandwide insurrection following Paul Bogle's march for justice. Police barracks were quickly built at all stations where staff had to live to ensure a quick response, while encouraging isolation from citizens and building staff solidarity. So, today, even as junior staff receive a monthly financial allowance for rent, barracks are still being built and maintained at a cost of billions of dollars.The last being a 20-man barracks at Shady Grove station with a staff of 12 — as if awaiting an insurrection.

These persisting structures, created to support colonial governance, include a tall and sometimes tyrannical hierarchy of 13 ranks (now 11); a marked distinction between the uniform of the white colonial officer class and the black, native constables. Insignias of rank were clearly insufficient to distinguish between white officers and black constables. Today it's still not enough to show the difference between black and black.

Then these was — and still is — the aim of internal self-sufficiency revealed by the employment of police personal on non-policing task (check the police staff on the Building Maintenance Unit).

Military drills have always been used by our police to instil “a sense of instinctive obedience to orders”. This incorporates subordination rituals such as saluting and standing to attention, thus legitimising the idea that respect must always flow upwards. But it should be obvious that the means used by a police force to ensure compliance of its members must powerfully influence how its young street cops, in turn, enforce compliance of the public. That is why our police so often expect quick and overtly submissive obedience to their orders during the hundreds of such daily police/public encounters, especially from those with lower social badges of rank; that is, the poor and the powerless. These encounters, which often lead to violence and hostility, cannot be corrected by improving community policing, putting more boots and the ground, more police power, or more technology.

Tethered somewhere downriver from 1867, our police have retained too many of the dominant features of its founding document. Its cultural warehouse, which resemble much of the society it serves, ensures survival and continues to successfully resist attempts to change and control crime.

It is certain that plans to control violent crimes must include emphasis on self-discipline and ethics of its members, while replacing these dominant and determining structures which restrain the good men and women of the JCF.

Harold Crooks

Kingston 10

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