TRAINED forensic scene-of-crime experts are finding it quite a task to deal with the gory murder scenes left by criminals with some even pressing their superiors for transfers from that department of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington has said.
Ellington, who last Wednesday showed parliamentarians several ghastly pictures of crime scenes and victims that had Justice Minister Mark Golding looking particularly pained was putting on record the Constabulary's support for the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act otherwise called "Anti-Gang legislation". The Act is being deliberated by a joint select committee of Parliament chaired by National Security Minister Peter Bunting.
Prior to showing the photographs, Commissioner Ellington warned that "some of the scenes are graphic and would not be ones you want to look at for too long, an illustration of what criminals do to our country and citizens every day."
"You may be seeing these as members of the committee for the first time, but we see it everyday," the senior lawman declared.
"It takes us three years to train a forensic scene of crimes expert; they have to contend with this sight every single day. A lot of our officers are traumatised, many of them are seeking transfers out of the unit, they don't want to work there anymore," he told the committee.
Among the scenes showed by the commissioner were photos with what he said was the signature calling card of a noted gang, whose members remove the head of the victims so that the family cannot have "an open casket funeral". He said the famile and other residents in the community were left with memories for years because "of that kind of punishment".
Sharing photographs of children who have also been massacred, the police chief told politicians "in most countries, one of these photographs would have triggered a dramatic change in public policy. Unfortunately, we see so many of those every single day and the status quo remains."
"Crime is no longer a social problem, crime has now emerged as a national security challenge, it is a clear and present danger it is listed as number one in our national security policy, it begs strategic response," he said.
On Friday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Bishop Gary Welsh, the JCF's chaplain, backed the commissioner sayin that he was "perfectly correct".
"His comments reflect the reality of the tough terrain of the law enforcement officers," he told the Jamaica Observer.
"It is, in fact, true that it takes that much time for us to train someone to operate in that field but the Commissioner might have wanted to go on to say he has balanced that with training people to care for those. So, we have a full-fledged medical services branch with two consultant psychiatrists, three psychologists, a number of social workers and in addition we have eight chaplains and as it stands now 300 volunteer chaplains who are trained to offer psycho-pastoral care to these members," he said.
ACP Welsh said while the reality was stark, the JCF fortunately has programmes in place to care for officers affected by the trauma associated with their jobs.
However, he noted that there was no one-size-fits-all solution.
"It involves journeying with them through the incidents that play on their minds and the incidents that cause flashbacks and we have several different interventions in our toolbox and you treat with each on its own merit. So, it's not like we say once an officer comes you are going to do this, we journey with them because this affects the officers in different ways, each has a different capacity level so as we journey with them we pick up where they have challenges and use whatever technique is required," ACP Welsh pointed out.
He said where the needs exceeded the capacity of a particular caregiver a referral, protocol kicks in which usually takes the officer to the medical services where they are better equipped to offer that level of care.
He was, however, unable to provide the numbers for those who find the demands of life in the Unit too much.
"I am not able to speak to the figures specifically, what I do know is that on occasion we yield to the request in the interest of the member and other factors, but it is really in the minority. Most of them after engaging with the medical services branch and chaplaincy are very happy to continue with their jobs and return and serve for many years," the JCF Force Chaplain said.
In the meantime, he said the JCF has been proactive rather than reactive.
"A part of our response protocol too is that we don't wait on the officers to complain. We schedule clinics where the caregivers go in and have group therapy. Once a team goes out you do debriefing and you can easily pick up those who are carrying baggage and pull them aside. It's not in all cases that the members complain first, sometimes we detect the need for the intervention and take it from that level," he said.
Asked whether the past summer was hard on the unit given the estimated four murders per day ACP Welsh said: "we were kept busy you can appreciate that with three hundred volunteer chaplains spread across the country you do get some breather, in a lot of cases what we did is we reassigned persons so that for Kingston West for example we had to move some resources in to that area because of the heavy concentration of incidents in that area".
They would have had a tougher time in recent times than at others but we are not complaining, we are prepared, we are trained and we are responding. Of course we wouldn't mind if we didn't have any, but for those that we do have, we handle quite well," ACP Welsh told the Observer.
In the meantime, he expressed appreciation for the level of understanding that individuals who continue to support the Unit display.
"Some of them are secret disciples, who don't want their names mentioned but their support is so tremendous, we value their partnership," he said.
National Security Minister Peter Bunting earlier this month said a general increase in the number of inter and intra-gang conflicts was among several reasons for the spike in murders, which made for an unusually murderous summer with an average four murders per day for the period June 30 to August 31.