A critique of the recently amended JCF legislation
The recent requirement for sub-officers and constables to give six months’ notice of their intention to withdraw from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) may prove as difficult to enforce as the public health tobacco control regulation which forbids smoking in public places.
The first challenge created by this piece of legislation is that it may dissuade interested parties from joining the JCF due to the threat of being fined or imprisoned should either the condition of service or some personal or other reasons cause them to leave within a relatively short period or if they choose to use the force as a stepping stone to more lucrative opportunities.
As a 40-year veteran of the JCF leaving at the commissioning rank and having at one time responsibility for over 2,000 members of the constabulary while an area officer, I have observed that comparatively few policemen serve the force beyond 10 years. Many leave the force with little or no notice for various reasons which will be discussed.
The second challenge includes condition of service. There have been times when police stations have been so dilapidated that constables living in barracks have an unobstructed view of the stars on a clear night due to the deterioration of the stations over time. This poor living condition has, in the opinion of many retired officers, been a contributing factor to the deterioration in discipline of many policemen due to the change in policy which allows police officers to live outside of barracks in private quarters where they are unsupervised and which facilitate involvement in nefarious activities.
The third challenge is the burgeoning crime rate and criminal actions which police officers face daily and which, despite several policies and strategies, continue to consume the lives and well-being of many of the JCF members. In addition, they are underequipped and overworked.
The fourth reason for policemen exiting the force at this pace are the opportunities that are open to them both at home and abroad, and perhaps this is the only area in which the Act may be effective due to the necessity of a favourable recommendation from the force. Notwithstanding, officers will still continue in their quest for more favourable occupational engagement.
The fifth reason is the lack of mentors within the force seems to impact the exodus. There was a time when young policemen were subjected to the guidance of well-rounded divisional sub-officers who exercised control and mentorship over the young constables.
The quality and commitment of divisional training sub-officers have deteriorated over the years. This, buttressed by the fact that many of the policemen joining the force use it as a stepping stone, many to get a visa to the United States or some other country.
Although there may be good reasons for enacting this piece of legislation, it must be judiciously balanced against the ills. A policeman or policewoman who is forced to remain in the constabulary against his or her will may become frustrated and direct that frustration either against members of the organisation or members of the public. The officer may become lethargic, underproductive, indisciplined, or worse yet engage in conduct that brings the force into disrepute.
The idea of sending a police officer to prison to share quarters with criminal elements whom he or she may have arrested merely because that officer has disengaged from the force for whatever reason does not seem to be good policy. It criminalises the officer at a time when ganja is possession and use of ganja is being decriminalised.
The sixth reason is that disenchanted policemen may have the tendency of ignoring criminal activities which will subscribe to spiralling crime rates. Currently, in some divisions, a substantial number of the members while on the books cannot be accounted for. This has been my experience while at the Area 1 Division which encompasses Westmoreland, St James, Trelawny, and Hanover.
The point is, if and when these officers are brought to book, there is a high probability of these officers exiting the force. The same is true across other divisions.
Rubbishing the court attendance argument
Police officers, whether serving or retired, are required to go to court when subpoenaed to do so or suffer the consequence of having bench warrants issued for their arrest. I know of cases where police officers, after leaving the force for as many as 14 years, are summoned to attend as witnesses in murder cases.
A critique of the graduate entrants
My attention was drawn to an article on social media entitled ‘JCF/government Act to stop attrition from force sophomoric decision’, which is a well-written article by a former member of the force which criticises the attitude of some graduate entrants to working in the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
I tend to agree with the writer that very few of the graduate entrants have concerned themselves with the development of the JCF or the interest of the public. Many do not bother to acquaint themselves with either the law or police procedures and, if not properly supervised, spend very little time actually performing policing duties and accordingly do not do well operationally or administratively.
Not all graduate entrants display ambivalence to their duties. There are some who entered the force and performed exceptionally well and were not rewarded. Some after 10 years of service and not been promoted, obviously because they were not in the “right circles” had to leave, much to my disenchantment.
Some of those officers have been absorbed into senior positions in other government or private sector entities. One is now a judge, another a senior member in a commercial bank. There are yet other policemen who have benefited significantly from taxpayers contribution to the society and who have studied for as many as 10 years and achieved several degrees without breaking that leave for a single day to contribute to the development of the force.
I continue to be upset because some of these members received promotion to substantive ranks within the force which, to my mind, is unfair as the other people who have been toiling during their absence have been left behind.
As a five-time graduate of The University of the West Indies, many people have questioned how I found time to study. The secret has been that for every time the university, either at Cave Hill or Mona, is on break, even for the Christmas and Easter period, I returned to work and did so laboriously. During my periods of study I have never been away from the force for more than a year.
Some of the graduates within the JCF are averse to obeying the rules and regulations set out by the establishment. They do not report for duty as detailed, they do not follow the dress code as set out in the book of rules and the JCF regulations, they do not command the respect of the junior members of their command, a situation to which many of them subscribe.
While condemning those members, kudos must be showered on those who have committed themselves to serving the force and have been rewarded with portfolio and other senior positions within the constabulary. The graduate entrants within the JCF must now realise that they have been and will continue to be under greater scrutiny both from within and outside the JCF.
My final query about this new development is whether this offence is extraditable, as most of the police officers leaving the force will be out of the jurisdiction of the courts.
Please see article referred to on chatt-a-box.com dated the 12/8/2017 and undoubtedly written by an intelligent and experienced police officer.
Keith M D Gardner is an attorney-at-law and a retired assistant commissioner of police. He is currently director of security for The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Send comments to the Observer or email@example.com.