Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Mark Ricketts | Police between us and criminals

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Soldiers talk with a resident in Denham Town, west Kingston, during ZOSO operations recently.

This is Part Three of a five-part series titled 'It is a disgrace how we treat the police'.

Six days ago when St Mary South East by-election winner, Dr Norman Dunn, took the oath of allegiance in Gordon House, the Holness administration widened its parliamentary majority. The increased wiggle room should allow his Government to adopt more serious measures in combating crimes and commit the resources needed to let the country know that safety and security of citizens is its number one priority.

Just over a week ago, yet another policeman killed in the line of duty was laid to rest. Melvin Smith, a 38-year-old corporal, in attempting to apprehend robbers stealing a bike from its owner, was gunned down by them in Mandeville. A law enforcer on duty, trying to keep the nation safe, had his life prematurely snuffed out over a piece of metal on wheels. The bike's owner was also shot, but not fatally.

Earlier this year, The Gleaner published a landmark study on crime by UWI anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle pointing out that some inner-city youths declare they need no protection from the police; it is the police that need protection from them. According to the youths, "The police can protect women, and children, and middle-class people, but not us. It is a war thing between us."

Two weeks ago, The Gleaner's editorial, 'Mass mobilisation against crime', pointed out that so far in 2017, "there have been nearly 1,300 homicides in Jamaica. Murders are up by more than a quarter, when compared to 2016. At this rate, there will be, by year end, around 1,700 homicides, or at a rate of more than 63 per 100,000." The editorial might have said as well that since the start of the year, 48 children have been killed.

The editorial continued by making an appeal to "the prime minister to understand that crime has become a deep crisis that is pushing Jamaica to the realm of anarchy and he has to pull together the best minds, wherever they can be found, to work out the short-, medium- and long-term strategies - including the overhaul of an incompetent and corrupt police force - and the creative deployment of all available resources".

 

BANING OUR PROBLEMS

 

Here we go again! The familiar whipping boy, the bane of all our problems, the corrupt police. We take refuge in the denunciation of the police as corrupt because it allows us to escape by calling for another meeting, this time of great minds; by setting up, yet again, a newly formed Security Programme Oversight Committee; and by trying to get volunteers as part of a mobilisation effort similar to "when Michael Manley was driving consensus around democratic socialism".

All this volunteerism and a plethora of committees to find solutions are a sure way for Jamaicans to talk some more, as we usually do, instead of Government taking a really tough stance on crime.

The police remain the only line of defence between the criminals and the citizens. They are, however, up against it - despite instituting recommendations from various reports, including recruits taking polygraph tests, and upgrading the force, which now has over a thousand university graduates, including many with master's degrees and doctorates.

Even with this, condemnation is assured and bad-mouthing is relentless. But, given the profile and character of our society with the most vicious and destructive organisational structure known to mankind, namely, political garrisons; with at least 25 per cent of our population living in illegal settlements on captured land; with a massive backlog of cases in our criminal-justice system; with 263 gangs known, but unaccounted for; with an asinine bail policy, no other police force in the world has to deal with what confronts our constabulary.

Put differently, where in the world can a better police force be found to deal with the massive problems that we have here in Jamaica, problems which are fixable, but we seriously fail to address?

Before you snicker, before you tell me I must be joking, just bear with me. Our police are not perfect and more needs to be done, but they are underfunded, undermanned, especially in the critical, highly skilled area of investigation, and they lack the requisite tools and current technology. This means they are functioning in a world with immense disadvantages. But that offers no solace to a public gripped by fear. They look at the numbers and see homicides increasing each year, and the homicide rate one of the worst in the world. As far as they are concerned the police must be judged by the numbers, and the numbers do not look good.

Jamaica is a small, open economy where our borders are still extremely porous and illegal guns and high-powered rifles pour in under various schemes conceived and masterminded by the creative genius of Jamaicans of all stripes. The guns bark everywhere.

 

UNPAID BENEFIT

 

The reality of 180,000 homes stealing electricity results in nearly a million men, women, and children securing an unpaid benefit. Add to that the ill-gotten gains from praedial larceny and the illegal cash pot operators creaming off billions from the gaming industry and using it to buy guns and ammunition.

Identifying areas today's constabulary cover, columnist Dr Garth Rattray lists child abuse, sexual offences, special investigations, patrol (land and sea), narcotics, traffic, communications, forensics, technical matters, fraud, cybercrimes, terrorism, and overt and covert intelligence gathering.

All this takes its toll on the force. The police death rate is one of the highest in the world. As Dr Gayle says, "Our police are 51 times more likely to be killed than the police in more stable countries, such as New Zealand."

Interestingly, a few weeks ago, I drove down Maxfield Avenue towards Spanish Town Road in Kingston looking to buy some clay flower pots. I was advised by bystanders that a clay pot maker had been killed some months earlier and another, having lost a family member, is in hiding. In a very protective manner the bystanders escorted me to my car and said, "Elder, Ramsay Road and Raphael Lane were hot, hot last night, so don't even think about going down there to buy the pots."

Then I saw four policemen standing at the street corner about to enter their Toyota police car. They were passive, subdued, and, if not afraid, they allowed worry to be consumed by resignation. It was Saturday at midday. The car started and meandered down the narrow street into the unknown, and I thought to myself: There they go doing their job of protecting the nation without fanfare and without sufficient recognition and appreciation.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rickettsmrk@yahoo.com.