Positive response to news that police Mobile Reserve being shuttered


Friday, May 03, 2019

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A new-look special police unit should be operational by the end of this year as part of major changes being implemented in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

The new unit is to replace the decades-old Mobile Reserve which appears to have been linked to one controversy too many after three of its members, including two who were off frontline duties, were implicated in the fatal shooting of a man near Chedwin Park in St Catherine last Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang yesterday announced that the head of Mobile Reserve, Senior Superintendent Terrence Bent, had been sent on leave to facilitate the investigation of the incident that ended with three men dead.

Chang also announced that Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke has been sent in to oversee the winding up of the Mobile Reserve.

The highly respected Clarke is also to develop the framework for “a new vetted, specialised operations organisation, properly trained and equipped to respond to current and future threats”.

“We need a specialised unit to deal with the threat of the heavily armed criminals who are creating mayhem in sections of the island,” Chang told the Jamaica Observer.

“The unit will have a broad responsibility to deal with issues professionally and will be fully vetted and trained to respond to threats,” added Chang as he vowed to provide the JCF with budgetary and legislative support to conduct the needed reform.

According to Chang, further details of the reform measures will be announced during a press conference he will host with Police Commissioner Antony Anderson next week.

But even as the nation awaits the additional details from the security minister, Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), welcomed the decision to shut down the Mobile Reserve.

“I am happy that something is finally being done about Mobile Reserve because we have repeatedly pointed out the deficiencies in leadership, accountability and control of the Mobil Reserve. It was pointed out by the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry (into the May 2010 operation in West Kingston) as well, so we are happy that something is finally being done,” said Williams.

“But we also want a wider look at how the JCF uses force and for the minister to consider issuing rules for the use of force for the JCF, the JDF and the Correctional Services. Rules that will ensure that they have the right human rights framework in how they use force,” added Williams.

Security consultant and former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields, who in 2016 called for the disbanding of the Mobile Reserve, also welcomed the announcement by Chang.

“Unfortunately it has taken many years for this to happen. It has been recommended on many occasions in the past as the Mobile Reserve had a very heavy, strong 'squaddie mentality', and what made that worse was that police were being recruited and trained and sent straight to Mobile Reserve, which meant that they had no interaction working at the community level and this strengthened the squaddie mentality,” Shields told the Observer.

He said the JCF needs personnel highly trained to work in tactical units and to support the divisions, after which they can be returned to the divisions to work with the communities, even as a special unit is established to replace the Mobile Reserve.

“Certainly the JCF requires a very highly professional support unit for crime hotspots, there is no doubt about it at all, but it needs to be redesigned and brought up-to-date. Frankly, the Mobile Reserve was antiquated and has been a breeding ground for some of the suspicious fatal shootings that we know of,” said Shields as he applauded Chang for the plan to set up the new unit quickly.

“I fully support him on that but I would say I think persons should have a minimum of five years' policing experience before they are even considered for this unit. They should be polygraphed, they should be vetted before they go on that unit, and then they should be subjected to first-world training to ensure that the public can trust them.

“They should also be fully equipped to support the very difficult job that the men and women of the JCF have on the streets. We need that sort of unit that the public can have confidence in,” added Shields.

The spotlight has been turned on the Mobile Reserve since last Sunday when news broke that three of the cops allegedly involved in the shooting incident that left three persons, including one member of the JCF dead, were based at that unit.

The vehicle the three were travelling in was also assigned to Mobile Reserve, while three of five guns found in the car the cops were travelling in, plus other paraphernalia, were also JCF property, although two of the cops were on murder charges and taken off frontline duties.

In a release yesterday, Chang sought the backing of Jamaicans — who have spent most of this week voicing their concerns about the JCF on traditional and social media — in the move to reform the force.

“We ask members of the public to support the process of change and reform. We also ask members of the JCF to embrace this evolution and transformation as it will redound to their benefit, that of their family, and the nation,” said Chang.

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