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Too many square pegs in round holes

Monday, November 13, 2017

Yesterday's Sunday Observer article about rude and crude behaviour towards the public by police personnel provides no surprise for most Jamaicans.

Truthfully, while the leadership of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has from time to time spoken of the need for police to improve their 'front desk' posture, this newspaper has never had the impression that the issue receives much more than lip service.

Perhaps that's understandable, given Jamaica's intolerably high crime rate. JCF leaders, struggling to deal with rising murders, robberies, etc in an environment of chronically inadequate personnel and material resources, may be tempted to feel that public relations belongs on the back burner.

Yet, we all know that public trust of the police is critical in order to facilitate successful investigations and crime solving. And further, there has to be a focused effort by the constabulary to build that trust and confidence.

That has to happen not just through the actions of specially trained community safety officers who meet and greet people in their homes and neighbourhoods, but also because of the experiences of ordinary people when they visit police stations or are involved in other interactions with lawmen, such as spot checks, for example.

It would help, we think, if the constabulary's leadership pays special attention to who actually sits at the front desk in police stations. It's not enough to suggest that all staff, having gone through the requisite police training, should be able to cope when dealing with John Public.

Good customer care requires personnel able to consistently demonstrate patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen. We are aware that such people will be in great demand in all areas of police work. Nonetheless, those best able to demonstrate those qualities, alongside good communication skills, should be the ones manning front desks.

While we do not have all the facts, it is clear that the bizarre case of a woman in Trelawny being locked up for alleged disruptive behaviour, without her complaint been taken by the police, resulted from a breakdown in basic communication. There were parties to that episode who just weren't listening.

Of course, poor front-desk customer care isn't confined to the police. It's a problem which plagues the entire public sector and, believe it or not, even sections of the profit-oriented private sector — albeit to a much reduced degree.

We are aware that in the Ministry of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, has been giving priority attention to the matter. Minister Tufton has even argued that an empathetic and compassionate front desk is of therapeutic value for those awaiting health care.

Ultimately, improved staff training, improved job satisfaction and well-being — born of better salaries and working conditions — all contribute to good customer care in the police force and the wider public sector. But also, we hold, there has to be a concerted effort at all levels to ensure that, as much as possible, the right people face the public.

Currently, there are too many cases of square pegs in round holes.