Tear down the Jamaican police force and rebuild it

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Whether it’s mending a failing company, fighting corruption, tackling the disease, or rebuilding a marriage, the hardest problems defy just-add-water remedies. Indeed, slapping on a band-aid when surgery is needed usually just makes things worse. — Carl Honore

jamaican police

THOSE words aptly describe my thoughts when I hear many people talk about the police force we currently have in this country. People have been calling for something to be done about the status of the police force as it has shown over the many decades that it is profoundly incapable of containing, much less preventing crime.

Imagine my profound sense of astonishment when I heard the current Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang describe the current police force in these terms: “We have inherited a glorified security guard system which was largely designed to protect the property of property owners… where we trained them for six months in military drill, gave them some discipline, gave them a big pine baton and a Lee Enfield rifle, and then we complain that they shoot or beat up somebody.”

He is absolutely correct!

I was astonished because I have never in the history of this country heard another security minister sum up the root of the problem in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), as well as the scale and magnitude of the effort that will be required to fix it, all in one paragraph.

Also, he has brought front and center the question of what type of a police service Jamaica requires for its needs at this time and going forward. The question that we must all ask ourselves is: Do we try to fix the present one or tear it down and start over?

That’s one of the most profound questions we, as a nation, can possibly ask ourselves at this moment, and the answer we give will determine where we go as a country. My preference, as I have advocated for a long time, is to tear it down completely and rebuild it; one cop at a time.

For years different administrations and police commissioners have gone the route of ‘just-add-water remedies’ and ‘slapping on band-aid’ solutions. Whether it is paying them more, passing increasingly powerful legislation that takes more and more rights away from the citizenry or, the latest one, tracing off the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), all have failed miserably.

It is now rather refreshing to hear a minister of national security finally bringing the discussion away from band-aid solutions to a more radical and far-reaching fix to this national crisis. Yes, the police force as it stands now is a national crisis and as a nation, we have failed to treat it as a crisis.

What we currently have is a national crisis being used to fix another national crisis, and for some reason, this nation thinks we can have lasting solutions to crime. It can’t and will never work. States of emergency — which I support wholeheartedly — are just short-term fixes to long-term problems. They work very well for the now, and in the immediate aftermath, but not forever. Forever is the goal we are after.

The discussion and action must move towards tearing down and building anew. It is patently clear we cannot fix the mess we have, because it would seem to me that it suffers from design problems in the first place. The tinkering around the edges, over time, to try and make it evolve, will always fail when the face and character of the nation has continued to be increasingly murderous.

We now have to put in something new and different. There is absolutely no band-aid left to put on this national crisis. This should have been done decades ago. It now fall to this Government, as so many other societal and institutional problems, to fix once and for all. And fix it we must, or else we all going into the ‘crapper’ at record speed.

It won’t be easy as, in my view, one of the prevailing problems in this country is that too many people like it the way it is and will fight tooth and nail to keep it as it is. Even some of those that make public statements to the contrary want it to stay the way it is.

Why? Because it is profitable to them.

It’s no different in the police force. A lot of the so-called fine women and men of the JCF like it just the way it is. It’s a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. I do not subscribe to the view that the vast majority of police officers are fine, upstanding cops. Nope. Why? If the vast majority of police are fine, upstanding officers, why in God’s name do they routinely protect the bad ones? If they are not guilty by direct acts, they are guilty of aiding and abetting. That, in my book, makes them all guilty. My grandmother — may her soul rest in peace — usually said: “Son, show me your company and I will tell you who you are.” A sober man doesn’t associate with drunks.

The Government has signalled its intention to go in the radical way, not the band-aid manner, and we must support it to the last man on the street. While crime doesn’t draw political boundaries, or is a respecter of any, sadly, our political realities will always make it a political football. In this country, nothing is exempt from politicisation.

Be that as it may, however, as a nation, we must remember that crime affects us all. And one of the solutions to curtailing crime to acceptable levels is to have a proper, efficient, highly skilled, dedicated, and well-trained security apparatus that can effectively tackle the undesirable elements in our society and keep them at bay. That includes the police.

So, whatever initiative that the present Government is undertaking must be supported by all. Not in mere platitudes, but in direct action. Let your Member of Parliament and councillor know you support the Government’s initiatives to fix the police force and solve crime. And, regardless of his or her thoughts, he or she must go into Parliament and publicly support the Government. We must remember we are the ones who elect them.

We’ve got to fix this police force fast, and that, in my view, means ripping it apart limb by limb and tearing it down to the ground, then rebuild it. If we don’t, God help us.

We have to do what is necessary to help ourselves

We’d love to hear your views on this…