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The force changed me

Cops say policing in Jamaica makes them harsh, callous

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Features Editor — Sunday thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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POLICEWOMAN 'X' remembers well the day she was assaulted by a senior officer.

'X', then a recruit, told the Sunday Observer the officer kicked her in the chest, called her derogatory names, and threatened to kill her.

Years have passed, but the memory lingers and the psychological scars remain.

"It has never left me," she said. "It has never left me... The most trauma I've ever suffered in my life was joining the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

The cop, who asked that her name, rank and station of assignment be withheld because she was not permitted to speak to the press, said the incident opened her eyes to what she describes as the true nature of the force.

"I had no idea the force was like this. We are treated with such disregard, such disrespect... If you're sick, you're not visited.

"I've never seen so much slackness, so much disrespect, so much unfaithfulness; and there's nobody to talk to, because if you make a report to your senior officer your career is over," she said.

'X' had dreamed of enlisting in the force from she was a little girl. She was drawn to the smartness of the uniforms and the discipline with which the cops behaved. She said once she joined, however, she was in for a rude awakening.

"It changed me," she said, shaking her head and with a far-off look in her eyes. "It changed me, and it's not for the better."

Asked how she had changed, the woman said she has taken to smoking and has become irritable and short-tempered. She said, too, that her children confessed that they were afraid of her.

"I'm short-tempered, really short-tempered, and the least little thing ticks me off... In a relationship, even when my partner is trying to play with me by tickling me or pulling my hand, and if I say stop once and he doesn't, the next time I say stop it's like my head is going to blow off...

"There are so many things that you're upset about. There are so many things you find unacceptable, but you can't speak about it, you can't do anything about it. Imagine having your anger and you can't vent it, you can't share your concerns, and it builds up over time," she said.

For that reason, most of us remain single and miserable," the policewoman said.

One highly placed policeman, with over 12 years' service, could relate to the changes in persona brought on by the job. He told the Sunday Observer that recruits usually come in innocent and naive. They are usually unexposed, fresh out of high school often with the bare minimum requirements of four Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, from rural Jamaica, and often from the lower economic/ working poor stratum. By the time they transition from civilian to cop, however — after an intensive four or six-month training period, which many argue is inadequate given the scope of the JCF's operations — the shock quotient alone is enough to make them hardened. Subsequent to that, the conditions to which they are exposed on a daily basis only serve to spike the stress level, he said.

"Most people who join the force are usually docile, but after a while they become harsh, callous."

"After six months of cramming and 'swotting', and all the pressure, you are suddenly given a gun; given the power to arrest anybody. It's an awesome responsibility," another policeman said, making reference to the chasm between civilian life and that of a cop.

"I know a young man who just graduated. He is 20. He grew up in church and every night he goes out there with an M-16. He patrols Tivoli, Central Village; these volatile areas, but when he leaves work he takes the bus with some of these same people who he reprimanded or arrested during the day, and he is unarmed," said the second policeman.

In last Sunday's Observer, several cops pointed to 15-hour workdays, the lack of good working vehicles and the lack of toilet facilities at some posts and/or the derelict state of those in use, as well as the fact that they have to purchase uniform accessories out of their own pockets as major issues.

To that list officer 'X' adds the fact that she has not been promoted once in her almost 20 years, as advancement, she believes, is largely determined by friendship and sexual favours.

"(Training) course ah fi special people," said a police sergeant, in apparent support of her claim.

The pressures manifest themselves in anxiety attacks, stress-related back spasms, and a host of other health problems.

"These 16-hour shifts must stop," another female said, pointing out that when they leave work in the dead of night, the JCF doesn't provide transportation home.

"After we spend all day putting robot taxis on wreckers, is the same robot taxi wi haffi tek at night to go home."

It's not an isolated complaint, for in a separate interview, the Police Federation said it was one of the areas many of its members referenced.

"Police are demotivated. Police don't care because nobody cares about them, so they don't put out their all. I'm not saying there aren't dedicated cops among us, but the majority don't care. When you see us out there it's just the face and the uniform you're seeing," said another female cop, suggesting an absence of heart, emotions, feeling.

But they find ways to cope. "They smoke weed, the drink, have multiple sex partners.

Newspaper reports yesterday said Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington had instructed divisional commanders, supervisors, and the general leadership of the JCF to be vigilant and watch for signs of "behavioural shifts" among members.

"While we build our professionalism, I am placing increased prominence on the well-being of members, [for] policing by its very nature is a physically and mentally challenging occupation.

He said he would meet with the Medical Services Branch and the Chaplaincy Unit to "seek better solutions as to how better we can care for members".

"Most of us are seriously depressed, but we're not going to talk to them because it's used against you in the force. It's not good to be known as a stressed- out cop... They will take your firearm, not send you on certain duties, and it will follow you throughout your career; you won't be promoted," she said.

"No matter how stressed I am they are not going to know. Many people have marital problems, financial problems, health problems, and they just have to smile and continue cause wi corner dark if we open wi mout'."

Said policewoman 'X': "I'm not telling no force chaplain, no senior officer about my problems, because it's not designed to assist you. They don't help you. You can't confide in them. You have to seek help outside."

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