Cops stretched thin

Cops stretched thin

Manning areas under quarantine forcing some officers to work up to 70 hours a week

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, March 26, 2020

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THOUGH acknowledging that the Government is hard at work in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation Sergeant Patrae Rowe is concerned that rank-and-file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are being stretched thin.

Pointing to the Clarendon Police Division, Rowe reminded that there is an ongoing state of public emergency in that parish as well as a quarantine zone for Cornpiece Settlement, in addition to regular policing duties, requiring the police continue to work beyond their prescribed hours.

“Prior to this outbreak [of the novel coronavirus] we were agitating for the high command to ensure that our officers are detailed for no more than 40 hours [per week], and if exigencies of the service intervene, it takes them to a maximum of 50 [hours]. We were seeing cases where our officers were working 60, 70 hours for the week; now the problem persists and the demand for policing services is even higher,” Rowe stated.

“In Clarendon the same police resource, the same command, has been managing the regular policing in the parish — the ESM [emergency security measures], and then the same police resources are managing the quarantine area in Cornpiece. So there has been no injection into the human resources or into the physical resources that is available in the division under the same command structure,” he added.

Last week, residents of Cornpiece Settlement in Hayes were placed under quarantine following the death of a 79-year-old man from the community who tested positive for COVID-19.

The decision to quarantine a section of the rural community was taken after the family members of the deceased reportedly refused to cooperate with Ministry of Health and Wellness officials.

The police were informed and dispatched to the community to allow the public health team to enforce the Home Quarantine Order, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in Parliament then.

“So the demand is higher on the staff and, therefore, there is a need to rationalise the resources on the ground to stretch it to a point that it can satisfy the demand in all these areas. Therefore, things have got a bit more hectic to police these areas. The police federation has called for an intervention in this regard,” Rowe stated.

He told the Observer, too, that while the police federation is “satisfied that the Government is doing everything it can to respond to the needs of the police officers”, the reality is that there is not enough supplies out there for our JCF members to feel adequately protected.

“For example, there is not an adequate supply of protective gears, hand sanitisers, masks, [and] gloves, even though there is wide-scale distribution of these items from the JCF. Commanding officers have had to prioritise in terms of distribution to priority areas, such as officers who do higher interaction with members of the public on the front line, as well as people who work in our cells to add a layer of protection for offenders who are in custody.

“[So] the complaints from our officers are that they are not seeing enough supplies of these resources within the divisions,” he said, while appealing to distributors of these products to contact the police federation.

At the same time, Rowe urged the Government to discontinue cell visits in the wake of the virus that has now reached 26 confirmed cases locally, arguing that it is “dangerous” to continue in the current climate.

“We have called for a ban on prison visits. That has to be accompanied by a commitment from Government to give more resources to the police, in that the Government has to provide toiletries and sanitary supplies to service persons in custody and not rely on relatives to take those in. We believe that if the visitation persists, chances are our cells will become infected. If our cells become infected, police officers will become infected, and if police officers become infected we will have to shut down entire policing facilities to fix that situation, and I think that anyone can appreciate the seriousness of that threat,” he said, adding that the current restrictions in place “are not enough”.

On March 16, the Department of Correctional Services suspended all external visits to facilities for two weeks as part of its COVID-19 prevention plan to decrease the likelihood of the spread of the virus. The public is therefore not allowed to take food or care packages into correctional centres.

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