People, Problems And Police
There was a time in Jamaica when policemen were viewed as peacemakers and poster boys for passive resistance.
That was also the era of politicians and pastors being seen as men of integrity and good standing in their respective ‘professions’.. It is only fair that I date the period all the way back to the 1970’s, and note that the drastic changes at that time were slow in coming, but when they did, Jamaica felt the full force of their effect. To date, Jamaica’s corrupt and destructive politics, pedestrian pastorship/preaching, and predatory policing has never been positively reversed for the better in our Jamaica.
The scholars of social history in this country have been largely biased and influenced one way or the other by an overarching arm of political allegiance which compromised the integrity of their intellectual writings. As such, it is easy to understand that some 50 books might have all been written by the same two or three eager beavers. The rest of the supposedly objective lot might as well be described as open to thoughts from the minority party, or just less inclined to be hinged on some political wagon or the other. No matter how we choose to be blinkered and biased, or just brave and barefaced, there are certain facts attached to our downward spiral since the period 1975/1976 until today that we cannot cast aside, asunder or away.
I can state categorically that this period was the unleashing of a previously underfed terrorist creature called political power. It is important to lay it squarely at the feet of those seeking ascension into the halls of governance. Several previously tight-knit communities became separated along political lines and slogans, and even after 40-odd years of policing and ministerial mutterings, there has never been anything more than curfews, token tolerance and ‘signing of peace treaties’ to make peace appear possible. We have continued to substitute meaningful and sustained long-term socio-economic development and replace it with tough, unconstitutional policing. The results? Levels of criminal activity that promote us to world levels of murder and mayhem.
Baskets To Carry Water
The police force has been given a gargantuan task of controlling crime in an environment that is prime soil for growing societal discord. While many of us experience several challenges in affording a normal life and acquisition of basic human needs such as housing, health care, education etc…members of the police force find remuneration also challenging. The facilities and lack of resources help to compound the issues and incidentally, most of the force comes from the very society and class that mixes and blends the problems. It is no surprise that the average policeman who grew up in a volatile part of Spanish Town will be on patrol in Rockfort and immediately use his own circumstances to brand and label residents living there.
The shouts of “dutty ghetto bwoy all ah oonu ah criminal and thief” are quite common utterances. It is almost another power play for those given state authority as law keepers to unleash the same frustrations borne by us all on the average citizen. We know for decades that successive governments have spent more time and resources boosting the abusive ability of the police and providing crime as a reason to dispose of legal and humane interaction than they have to make the society a better place to exist within. The police force in Jamaica has always been by average way behind the racehorse of murder and other criminal activity. That basket hasn’t even been able to be carried, much less attempt the impossible water-carrying feat.
Several attempts have been made over the years, albeit few and far between, to soften the image of the police force and make it seem civil. I doubt that it has worked, and the members are seen in the same light as politicians…less than credible and largely corrupt. I also doubt that the police force cares very much to be seen as anything less than murderous or zero tolerance until the crime rate is far beyond it and they suddenly crave the public’s help. This is the same public that fears them and lacks trust. The same public who have either been personally rubbed the wrong way or had a family member or friend who suffered at the hands of the defenders of the state. There has always been the statement that “police are sworn to serve, protect, and reassure the public”. However, there is fear in the hearts of average Jamaicans, especially from economically deprived communities, when they see the flashing blue lights atop a motor vehicle. The realities/perceptions of political allegiance and illegal practices being rampant in the police force does not help any member of society to feel at ease.
Private Security and Police Squads
It is time that we examine some very basic things and call a spade a spade…or shovel if you prefer…and find solutions. There are so many fixes that have been found, but I doubt any of them were meant to solve problems of crime. In the 1970’s we had the Eradication Squad, and by the very name, it was clear what that was meant to accomplish. Looking back at all the names given to these squads with the police force, we can see where not just their actions, but the names alone were supposed to drive fear into the hearts of the criminal element. I have never known who in their infinite wisdom thought that a gunman would be deterred from killing people because the name of a police squad was frightening. There was a time when the names of certain policemen within the force made the criminals scatter….well that was then, because most of those men have either retired or passed away. It is obvious that in Jamaica a policeman’s name can’t drive fear in anyone if he’s known for community policing and development. We have had so many ‘squads’ created within the force as a knee jerk reaction to crime, most can’t be recalled. But has it helped to reduce crime to a minimum? No.
What it has helped is the increase in funeral homes, private rapid response security companies, and sales of home, personal and business security systems. While all of this might be good for some, crime still remains a BIG business. That is exactly what it is…big business. However, what has been done since the 1970’s to ensure the police have less of a losing battle to fight and communities have less crimes to commit? Not much. The force is made up of persons from within the same warped society that seeks to have law-abiding citizens as it’s majority, and there are some things we must do:
1 – Stop making police fight crime…it is not the crime that needs to be fixed, it is the causes of crime and unlawful behaviour
2 – Start making members of the police force believe they are agents of change in every way within the society and treat them with the respect they deserve.
3 – Remember that money is not all that matters…fringe benefits do too.
4 – We cannot expect a patrol team to drive around in a car that looks like it was retrieved from the dump, has broken windows, car doors that are bolted to lock them compared to the standard car door fixture…or work in a police station that matches the description.
We all expect our police force to be even better than us as the citizenry, but if we find daily living and existence to be challenging, while some find it impossible or unbearable, how can the police force rise above these challenges? In order for us to reclaim and restore the people and police with far less problems…we need to demand that the State stops investing in buying a new fleet of police cars and sub-standard vests etc. Those funds and a lot more should be used for socio-economic and inner city development, and it must be done now.
We have our priorities skewed when we keep running behind crime instead of trying to prevent it. We can also ignore these urgencies and continue to pay the price of the problems.
Rodney S. O. Campbell ©