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Make 'Force' transformation a modernisation exercise

BY JASON MCKAY

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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There has been significant media attention given to the decision to embark on a programme to bring about quantum changes in the Jamaica Constabulary Force. This includes, but is not limited to, changing the name from Force to Service.

Any change, as long as it is an improvement, is welcome in any Government entity whether the police, the army, penal services, customs or the civil service. We don't have to bash any of them because we want to improve them, and we certainly have no need to behave like it was a situation where all bad and no good ever emanated from the 'Force'.

This country in the 1970s embarked on a reckless attempt at drastic change and through the blinded eyes of extremism introduced a movement where politicians embraced criminality. This was not limited to any one party and in fact involved three. Yes, I can count! I am referring to the Workers' Party of Jamaica, who no one remembers yet their contribution to the chaos of the 70s and the effects still impact us today.

So whilst the politicians, intellects and academics were all playing their part in plotting Jamaica's future demise and attending funerals of hoodlums and criminals, it was the Jamaica Constabulary Force that stood between the good citizens of this country and the “Feather mope”, Claudie Massops, Biya Mitchells, Tony Welchs and thousands more like them.

A total of 900 members have been killed since the creation of the Force. These officers were young men who died fighting for their country. Jamaicans, patriots and “people pickney”speaking of the Force as a representation of 151 years of historic negativity is being disrespectful to their sacrifice.

The 1980s brought about an era of stability because the civil war ended. The killing stopped because the thugs fled to the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom, thus creating the Shower Posse and several other gangs that became international.

The cowards ran because they knew their time of hiding behind the political shield was over. They ran in fear. They were in fear of the Force! Alas came that period in history where they were sent back for schooling in the international system of crime. Later deported and dangerous to an ill-prepared nation, yet again it was the Force that fought and protected the nation from them.

The 1990s, the drug trans-shipment city of Montego Bay and the war that was fought to end the drug domination of this tourist jewel was a victory won with the Force fighting in the streets, courts and the ocean. The era of lotto scamming, the States of Emergency and ZOSO are being fought night and day by the same Force that is being criticised whether battles are won or lost.

This is not to say the Jamaica Defence Force is not doing its part. It is! And as a nation we appreciate it. But with every door breached and in every Indecom purge there is a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force present staring down danger and getting bashed in circumstances where other heroes are given medals. I hear comparisons to other forces and measurements of success. I find it interesting because during my studies I have researched and been exposed to police forces primarily in three countries — Jamaica, the USA and the UK. Of the three, only Jamaican police officers could function with the scant resources with which they are issued.

None of the First World forces mentioned are operating in an environment of 44 murders per 100,000 citizens. None have a Bail Act as liberal as ours. None carry rifles older than their wives and none are paid less than US$800 a month.

We congratulate our teachers for functioning in an environment of minimal resources, we thank our doctors and nurses for performing in the squalor and decay of our hospitals.

We need to show appreciation to the men and women of the Force who prevail in the face of unequalled challenges and with inadequate assets, instead of this constant berating, even when our Government is planning change.

This should also extend to our politicians. Who has ever credited Dr Peter Phillips for his role in the defeat of the Montego Bay drug lords or Minister Robert Montague's courage in introducing ZOSO or the state of emergency in these times? Will we credit Dr Horace Chang if these changes are a success? Or will focus continue to be on every possible negative we can find?

Cruel criticism has become a cultural norm with us. It is directed at every aspect of our economic and social structure. We live and thrive on “cussing everything”.

The transformation of the Force can be a great part of our history if it is treated like a modernisation exercise and not the crucifixion of an organisation which knows the pain of burying its dead. We must also acknowledge the sacrifice and courage of the lion's share of men and women who have served the nation for a century and a half, rather than the handful who shame it.

Let this not be a battle with victors and vanquished, but an interactive exercise with the inclusion of the police — both who have served and who still serve — with an aim to maintain what has worked and discard what has failed. Ensure that at the end of it we still have men to fight the “Natty Morgans” and “Duppy Flims” of the future, because it was the Force that ended their rampage and it will require force, not service, to fight the apostles they have left behind.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com

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