Annie Paul | Police under siege
"Constables have been besieging members of the House of Representatives with requests to be given tickets as soon as the call comes for labourers for American farms. Mr L.W. Rose, St Catherine MHR, mentioned the fact this week in a debate in the House. The action of the constables is similar to that taken in the early days of farm labourer recruitment during the war years.
"Resignations from the police force were not as easily granted as they are now, and some constables, it was reported, actually misbehaved in order to be sacked, and thus get a chance to leave. It was then reported that a number of men who got out of the force in this and other ways were prevented from leaving the island by the action of officers of the CID."
In my latest trawl through The Gleaner archives, I came upon an article dated March 5, 1951 titled 'Policemen in farm labour rush' (from which the quotes above are taken). The brief report astonished me because it suggests that what we're experiencing today has roots that go back almost 70 years. Wasn't it only last August that the selfsame Gleaner reported changes to the Constabulary Force Act requiring sub-officers and constables to give six months' notice of their intention to resign or face a possible fine of $250,000 or three months in prison?
The reason for imposing such draconian regulation is the continuing high attrition rate in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, an organisation slated for modernisation in 2010. In that year, a Gleaner headline announced 'Cops quit - Close to 900 policemen and women resign in less than five years'.
The most recent edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica gives more current data on the dwindling size of the JCF:
The strength of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as at December 31, 2016 was 20.3 per cent below the establishment size of 14,091. During the year, 643 persons (13.1 per cent female) were enlisted, while 549 persons left the force. This was mainly due to resignation (71.4 per cent), retirement (18.2 per cent) and death (5.1 per cent).
Incidentally, of the 11,233 members of the JCF only about 2,570 are women. Clearly, recruitment and retaining of policemen and women has been a persistent problem since long before Independence. Seventy years later, is it any wonder that serious crime is slowly but surely engulfing the country starting at the western tip?
Isn't it high time we started paying members of the JCF a living wage? I think it was Jaevion Nelson who posted the following on Facebook and I completely agree:
JFJ says if the country is to demand accountability and professionalism from the police, then it must also demand that the Government reasonably provide for their welfare. It says poorly paid and frustrated cops are less likely to be effective at crime fighting or compliant with human rights. In addition, it says low wages also create an environment for corruption, exposing police to the daily seduction of bribes.
Let's remember this as we helplessly watch western Jamaica self-destruct. Let's also heed the searing words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who, invoking the late great Jamaican writer, Michelle Cliff, said more than a year ago:
If I could write this with fire, I would set ablaze some ideas on this page. I would talk about the black boys in Montego Bay who no longer know the value of life. They don't know because their black always needed to be qualified for it to become fully 'smadditised'. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.
Capture is a legitimate philosophy, because dem nuh own nutten. When Daddy Sharpe led his rebellion, when he set Kensington ablaze the white people in Montego Bay were angry, they punished, maimed and killed, and Daddy Sharpe gave his life in the middle of Sam Sharpe Square, downtown Montego Bay, right across from the Kerr Jarretts' Town House.
How has Montego Bay changed? Who plans for the children of Sam Sharpe and his soldiers, the Christmas martyrs. Dem used to state of emergency, di blinking city was born in a state of emergency. What they are not used to is justice and equality and rights and development. Give them that minister, give them justice and mek it stretch back to 1831 and remember Sam Sharpe. Start with the land ... mek dem stop capture ... because all lotto scam is another capture philosophy ... .
Some problems are just not the police's responsibility or in their capacity to solve, even if they are paid well. There will be no peace without justice and just remuneration for all. Nuff said.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org tweet @anniepaul.