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Recruitment, education and retention

Suggestions for the Jamaica Constabulary Force

Clement
Lambert

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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Reports of extrajudicial slayings and the ensuing investigations seem to have the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in a bit of a pickle. The nation seems to be further losing faith in the ability of the force to uphold the law in a professional and forthright manner. Corruption seems to be rife not only at the lower ranks for the force, but also at higher levels. Based on the information conveyed in news reports, State resources have been used by interdicted rogue cops, seemingly aided and abetted by rogue JCF members still in the force, to launch illegal assaults against the citizenry they have pledged to protect, serve and reassure.

The responses on social media and commentary under the news reports have been condemnatory of the force and have shifted to favour the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), which has often been vilified by the rank and file of the constabulary, their sympathisers, and even our political leaders. Unfortunately, the entire JCF is now being painted with one brush. What has been absent from the knee-jerk reactions is thoughtful reflection on factors that may have caused these serious chasms that threaten the integrity and trust in the force.

As an educator, I am compelled to explore matters of recruitment, education and retention of the members of the force as crucial factors that may have contributed to the current malaise Jamaica faces.

 

The recruitment process

Over the years we have received reports of improved screening of entrants to the police force. Copious background checks, and even lie detector tests, have been touted in the checks and balances for recruiting new members. However, parallel to these measures have been a shortage of qualified members to enter the force and the enormous attrition rate which may have been addressed through hasty measures to compensate for the dwindling numbers.

I was struck with a news item in which a police officer was arrested for stealing a laptop computer on the day of his graduation. At that time, it dawned on me that there must be something wrong with the way we recruit our officers. All officers, good and bad, had to go through a recruitment process.

Another dimension of the recruitment process is attempted political interference. Some of our public officials promise their constituents jobs and attempt to use their influence to get jobs as district constables, and even in the mainstream police force. About two years ago a couple of young people approached me for directions to National Police College in Twickenham Park. I then learned from them that their Member of Parliament (MP) had instructed them to go seek admission with the instruction to tell the recruitment personnel that the MP sent them. The youngsters were inappropriately dressed (for applying for admission) and struggled to ask a question in a coherent manner. I often wondered what happened when they reached the police college, and the ensuing transactions that may have determined their career path. Could it be that there are serious gaps in the recruitment process, and might it be time for a comprehensive audit of the recruitment process where recommendations are made for change?

 

Training and education

The duration and credentialling of people in other careers in Jamaica have evolved tremendously over the years. For example, the teaching profession has moved from a predominantly pre-trained (teachers without professional training) to two- and three-year programmes. Currently most colleges offer four-year bachelor's degrees as entry-level teacher certification. Nursing has also experienced a similar evolution. While I am not making a direct correlation between duration of training and quality of service it is undeniable that time spent in an education institution provides greater avenues for professional development and mentoring of the career aspirant.

A close look at the police training plan has revealed that, in recent times, training was reduced from nine months to four. This is a retrograde move since there needs to be time to assess the character and mettle of the future officer.

It might also be useful to look at the nature and quality of the education. In recent times there have been bold attempts to farm out aspects of the training to various institutions. For example, at The University of the West Indies, where I worked, I have seen cohorts spending time engaging in aspects of their training. This at face value seems to be an extraordinarily progressive move to entrust the education of officers to content area specialists. However, if time is taken away from base (or barracks) from the four months that initial training takes place.

From a professional standpoint four months are woefully inadequate to provide training for members of any profession. When do these young recruits get a chance to be exposed to a culture of the constabulary, where they interact with upright and reputable trainers who they may emulate and learn from? Do we expect these new trainees to be formed and informed by the harsh realities of their assigned stations and in some communities where they serve?

 

Retention

The police force has been haemorrhaging by the departure of its members, bad and good. Many of the members leave for various reasons. This include poor working conditions, poor salaries, and perceptions of unfair promotion practices where many good and dedicated officers are overlooked for political and personal reasons. Some of these maladies are not unique to the JCF; however, with the concern for national security and the crime problem this needs to be addressed in a fearless and dispassionate manner. We cannot afford to lose some of our best officers and professionals (in general) because they are treated as dispensable appendages to the force and country they have sworn to serve.

 

We must act now

Recruitment, education and retention are crucial components that influence the robustness and viability of any organisation or entity. If our policymakers are dedicated to improving public trust in the police force and crime reduction there should be more tangible steps to address the issues that are dogging the JCF.

Apart from renaming of entities and changing the top brass from time to time, there must be investments in changing the culture of the force. The recruitment process should be efficient proficient and above board. The duration of training should be extended, and quality assurance mechanisms should be in place to ensure that a coherent profile of a police college graduate is documented. If they have not yet done so, they need to collaborate with the University Council of Jamaica to develop standards for the preparation of law enforcement officers. While there have been noises of unfair practices in terms of promotion, Jamaicans have not been exposed to results of any audit that have explored this matter. If audits have not been conducted they should be done with precise terms of reference.

The salary and quality of life issue is far more complex since a country must be fiscally responsible in negotiation and awarding of revised salaries and benefits. However, there should be incentives to reward good conduct and dedication to legal and moral astuteness rather than cronyism and favouritism based on various types of connections. Positive action and accountability to the citizenry of Jamaica is necessary to improve the substance and image of the JCF and strengthen public confidence in this important entity.

 

Dr Clement Lambert is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Northern Arizona University. Until recently he was a senior lecturer in the School of Education at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or clementtmlambert@gmail.com.


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