Columns

The job of securing the nation

Keith Gardner

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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Security is the foundation on which societies dating back to early civilisation were built. Indeed, in societies with hunters and gatherers it was not unusual to have able-bodied members remain to defend the tribe from invaders. Today, security is regarded as the foundation on which firms, industries and nations are built. If that foundation is faulty, then the structure is likely to collapse.

Scholars, writers and practitioners in the field of security argue that governments have an obligation to provide certain public goods and safety nets. Among the public goods are the provision of a good health system, a good justice system, social security and national security.

Indeed, security is held to be among the most important of public goods. If a Government is unable to provide security at every part of its geographical borders, the result may be increased vulnerability to threats from invading forces which may vary from military sources (which is unlikely in the Jamaican case), but also from forces which include narco-terrorists with no legal or moral respect for the rule of law or the people it was designed to protect.

The guns, drugs and lotto scamming are multibillion-dollar criminal activities which, in some cases, surpass the gross domestic product of small island states, such as those member states in Caricom. Their open borders are largely unprotected, and their relevant proximity to each other and to South America increases their vulnerability. This is buttressed by globalisation with its rapid increase in technology, communication, and travel, which reduce territorial borders to a mere construct of the human mind.

The Internet and social media assist in real-time communication. A criminal mind can stay thousands of miles away and wreak havoc on a nation by attacking critical installations. Hackers have done this repeatedly against the USA and several other countries.

In Jamaica these threats are compounded by certain criminal actors who are among the cruellest in the world. Armed with high-powered automatic rifles and semi-automatic pistols they form themselves into criminal gangs who are hired by scammers, ganja farmers, people seeking reprisal (murder for hire), often fuelling the war for their respective turfs.

The complexity of these heinous crimes, which include misogyny, murders and attacks on our women, young girls and children, create debilitating fear in the society. The crime rate scares away potential investors, and productivity is reduced as people become virtual prisoners in their homes for fear of being attacked on our roads.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is under the leadership of a commissioner of police who is tasked with the security of our nation — every inch of our shore lines, the space within and, most importantly, our people. It is the responsibility of the commissioner to translate the security policy of the Government into operational activities which will enhance the security of our nation. These may include the surveillance of criminal gangs with the objective of dismantling them via the identification, gathering and presentation of the evidence that will result in the conviction of criminal actors such as scammers — as well as those who operate either by themselves or in smaller groups not regarded as gangs.

But the commissioner also has several other duties aimed at driving the mission of the JCF, which include the protection of life and property, the preservation of the peace, the prevention and detection of offences, and the maintenance of law and order. He must also develop policies and procedures to deal with the increasing traffic fatalities all across the island, which will necessitate special enforcement programmes that must include intercepting criminal elements who are either going to the scene of a crime, coming from a crime scene, or actually committing a crime while using our roads.

The commissioner also has to move government to provide the resources that are critically needed to enable the police to accomplish their mission. Then there are the numerous meetings among members of the force and civil society which are directed not only at communicating his policies, strategies and plans, but also to win the confidence of stakeholders. This is why the commissioner needs to have at his disposal a cadre of men and women who are competent in their respective fields of administration, human resource management, and operations, which involves the deployment of the force's assets to combat crime and public disorder. He also has to deal with discipline as the responsible person for authorising charges and confirming punishment after departmental trial which can be very time-consuming.

The commissioner must be briefed, either through the area officers or his representative, every morning before 8:30, and in cases of emergency, such as serious accidents, fatal shootings, demonstrations, etc, he must be briefed in real time.

In the United Kingdom there are over 40 police forces, each of which has a commissioner of police answerable to a body synonymous to our own Police Service Commission. They have their own budget and are largely independent of the other forces. The training is similar, and in cases of national emergencies the forces can be utilised from across the country as was done in the coal miners' strike from 1984 to 1985.

The British overseas officers contracted by the Jamaican Government at the turn of the millennium brought with them policies from the former colonial masters which could never be replicated in Jamaica for no other reason than the absence of the financial resources to support the notion such as divisional primacy, which implies that the divisional commander must have greater autonomy over his division with little intervention from the high command. They also recommended that area commanders - positions which do not exist in their own forces overseas, should be abolished.

Well, they have all left, many having gone back to their homeland leaving very little evidence of their contribution to the force, despite the large salaries and upscale accommodation which were part of their remuneration. Good riddance! There was no bathwater with which to throw out these babies.

I have taken the reader on an excursus of police management which may seem daunting, but there is a recipe for succeeding. Former Commissioner Owen Ellington was largely successful because he not only had a knack for the job, but surrounded himself with competent people who would execute his plans and policies.

As a former divisional branch and area commander, I am fully aware of the demands placed on the administrative aspects of policing such as reading, drafting and responding to a plethora of correspondence from government agencies as well as the general public. Then there is attending numerous meetings with public agencies, civil society groups and other departments, along with dealing with queries and complaints.

My way of getting around it, as many servicing members under my command can attest, was to arrive in office at 2:00 am to deal with those correspondence, leaving at six o'clock in the morning for operational duties, and returning at midday to hit the streets by 4:00 pm in peak hours.

While I am not asking any officer to leave his or her home very early in the morning, consideration should be given to arriving at 8:00 am and leaving at 5:00 pm. Of course, some officers have young children who must be let off and picked up from school, and in some cases facilitate medical attention. With these exceptions, officers who demonstrate leadership not only in the way they dress, but in the way they speak, of whom they speak, of what they speak, and where and how and when.

There is no doubt that the force is in need of a radical shake-up. Commissioner George Quallo cannot be expected to be on the street to fight crime; that is the responsibility of the policemen and policewomen on the front line who must not only be properly accounted for, but properly supervised. The officers who have been placed in cosy offices — commonly referred to in the force as being under “shady trees” — with little or nothing to do, must be given work to do. They must be sent out into the field. Too many officers have been promoted who have never had a bead of sweat rolling down their brow while performing police duties. If Commissioner Quallo fails, it will be because of his failure to dislodge these officers.

Members of the force must realise that they do not own public offices, they are merely holders in transition until it is either time to move on or move out. Years ago, transfers were so fast and furious that one did not have time to unpack certificates or place names on office doors. With regard to many officers who served the force well and are now retired, their contributions might never be recognised. But they must remember that they have given the best years of their life to a noble organisation and that they still have a voice.

Instead of condemning the commissioner publicly, we can give him suggestions and ideas which will enhance policing in general, suppress crime, and reassure the nation. Do not stymie his efforts. Many of us may have cherished illusions of grandeur and still hope that, by some magical twist of fate, we could be appointed commissioner. We must, however, accept the realities of life and the fact that, in some cases, our years of glory have passed. Let us commend where commendation is due, and offer words of encouragement instead of condemnation.

Finally, if political parties continue to quibble under whose Administration the most murders occurred, we will never find a solution to the rate of crime. Until everyone decides to work together we will not find ways to conquer crime and arrest the pervasive fear which accompanies it.

Keith M D Gardner is an attorney-at-law and a retired assistant commissioner of police, having served the force for over four decades. He is currently director of security for The University of the West Indies, Mona. Send comments to the Observer or keith.gardner02@uwimona.edu.jm.

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