“Transforming the Jamaica Constabulary Force to A Police Service that is Responsive to Community Needs”
I am truly grateful for the invitation to speak today at the Second Public Forum hosted by the Police (Civilian Oversight) Authority in May Pen. I think these Forums offer an excellent opportunity to facilitate more dialogue between the community and the police as well as promote more cooperation between the two groups.
As a former member of the Board of the Police (Civilian Oversight) Authority, I am keenly aware of the importance of the need for on-going dialogue in the process of transforming the Jamaica Constabulary Force to a Police Service that is responsive to the collective needs of the citizenry.
I use this opportunity to pay tribute to the Police(Civilian Oversight) Authority, which acts as a safeguard to protect the rights of all citizens while fostering best practices within the Force.
As you all are well aware, the Police system evolved from Colonial times, over 140 years ago, where the emphasis was more on defending the Establishment rather than providing sensitive and friendly policing. Of course, times have changed since then. Jamaica is now an Independent and democratic nation which takes pride in its civil liberties, its rule of law and its judicial system.
However, despite this obvious progress, there is still an outcry for changes within the Police Force as it pertains to managerial philosophy and the value system, where the ordinary citizen can have the fullest confidence in its ability to serve and protect.
Indeed, the consistent cry is that Jamaica desperately needs a Police Service that is:
▪ Well trained.
▪ Competent in providing a professional service.
▪ Respectful of human dignity.
▪ Protective of human rights, and.
▪ Accountable to the people who they serve.
Today, I want to briefly address the role we as citizens of Jamaica and the Police have to play in this transformation process, because as the saying goes: “One hand can’t clap.”
In recent times, we seem to have lost that deep sense of community spirit and brotherhood. Oftentimes it appears that persons become involved to see what they can get rather than what they can contribute. This needs to change.
There is need for a better spirit of community, brotherhood and partnership as it relates to both the Police and communities, especially in places deemed ‘hot spots.’ In other words, community policing needs to move up another notch as it falls under the primary tenet of transforming a Force into a Service. The understanding of this mode of policing is that, the police alone cannot combat and prevent crime.
Too often in the news we see residents complaining bitterly about police abuses; extra judicial killings and corruption which calls into question, the very nature of the relationship between citizen and the Police and the standard of policing in Jamaica.
Unless the police are rooted in and accountable to the communities in whose name they police, they will not enjoy the support of these communities. The police in essence, must make every effort to work with communities and not be perceived as working against them.
Therefore, getting closer to the community and establishing a better rapport is a must, if the Force wants the public to have confidence, trust and faith in passing on information to pre-empt problems. Trust is earned, not bought or granted, and the police have a lot of work to do in this regard. They must remember that they have the most to gain from popular support.
In terms of our role as citizens, we must realize that we have to support the Police in our communities because we are largely responsible for criminal prosecutions. It is members of the community, who lay charges, make statements, testify in court and assist in the performance of police functions. Without this co-operation, no Police Service can discharge its duties. The two must collaborate for the good of Jamaica.
The ‘informer’ culture has no place in the transformation of the Force to a Service. It absolutely has no place if we want the Police to be more effective in pursuing incidents of crime and violence. If you know, or are aware of questionable characters in your community, let your local police know. If you are a witness to a crime, step forward and report it. Citizens must trust that the Police will serve their needs and protect their rights. The Police must respect the trust that is placed in them.
As part of renewed cooperation, communities with the assistance of the Community Relations Officers of the JCF can revitalize the Neighbourhood Watch Programmes, which was launched back in the mid 1980s. Traditionally, these groups are the eyes and ears of the police. Up to 2008, these groups totaled 516 according to Police records but more than half are now dormant.
There are various reasons that may have contributed to the dormancy of this programme such as complacency and selfishness in terms of protecting one’s own turf by utilizing security firms but, whatever the reasons; it should be reenergized once again.
The Programme not only encourages residents to be vigilant and report criminal and sinister activities to the police but, it also ‘tides over’ manpower constraints of the Force and fosters better community involvement. However, to be effective, these groups must have strong leadership and an executive body that is committed to ‘drive’ the movement.
Vibrant Police Youth Clubs are also important for the promotion of better cooperation as they arguably offer a positive first contact between the police and young persons. It also provides the opportunity to present the Force as a Service.
I remember when I attended the last Forum here on December 4 last year, a participant lamented that the number of active police youth groups were dwindling in the parish and that it was cause for concern.
I appeal to the Clarendon Police to re-engage the youth of the Parish through these clubs. The engagement of the youth in crime prevention initiatives goes a long way in keeping the peace in what would otherwise be violent communities. It also acts an agent of re-socialization.
Parent, Guardians, encourage your children to join these clubs, especially those children who require mentorship and guidance.
Today, I also urge the Police to disengage from all activities that may belittle or tarnish their image such as indiscriminate arrests and detention; extortion; bribes; inappropriate behaviour, and extra judicial killings. Failure to do so will lead to the continuation of a perverted view on what the police are to the society.
The Police Force must also build a culture within that exudes professionalism and efficiency. Whatever deficiencies have repeatedly been highlighted such as the lack of resources; equipment and so on, these two issues require attention and managerial innovativeness, and the cost of maintaining these standards are marginal. The citizens are the consumers of this service and have a right to demand that the quality of this service meets their satisfaction.
The Police must be seen, and see themselves as the guardians of human rights generally, and the Constitution in particular. As such, the Police and its auxiliaries should view themselves as friends of the people, of ordinary, honest citizens, even as they instill fear and awe in criminals. It is said that a humane and efficient police force can in fact be more effective in discharging its responsibilities than an aggressive and corrupt one.
I believe that the police and Jamaica’s citizens can enjoy a closer relationship and have a better understanding of each other if transparency is maintained on both sides. The void that exists between the average citizen and the police can be repaired through community policing and communication between the police and the communities they serve, engendering trust and cooperation.
I believe that we can all work together to make things in Jamaica right and I encourage you not to give up, as all is not lost. Let us not lose hope- let us try again!
It is clear that the Police system faces many daunting challenges and that they deserve our respect and our gratitude. However, as momentous changes in the society continue, Jamaica will require renewed partnership and renewed determination in transforming our agents of security into a customer-friendly Service that is citizen-focused.
God bless you and God bless Jamaica, land we love.
I thank you.