Jamaican Police as Heroes and Heroines
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(22 October 2022) –– At a time when serious crimes are out of control, and Jamaica notoriously viewed as among the homicide capitals of the world, it is perhaps anomalous, and probably bordering on illogical to say the men and women of the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF), more specifically the rank and file, are heroes and heroines. But I unabashedly say they are. Before you conclude I have lost my mind, read on!
I understand fully the perception, as well as fact, there is corruption in the ranks of the JCF. The scourge of corruption overshadows those who are dedicated to law enforcement. While we occasionally credit individual acts of heroism by individual members of the JCF, we often use corrupt and other illegal acts of individual members to tarnish the entire force. Our criticisms of the JCF as a body to which is given the responsibility to maintain law and order, to protect the citizens from the harmful behavior of bad actors, contribute more to the problems of crime and security than to fix them.
Lack of public support contributes to an atmosphere of low morale within the force and cast the JCF as enemy rather than as protector of the citizenry. We castigate the rank and file, and the leadership often escapes with muted criticism and accountability. We ignore the fact that government is responsible for providing members of the JCF with a living wage and decent working conditions commensurate with the responsibility they are given and our expectations of them. There is no correlation between the risks they take as members of law enforcement and the wages they are paid. Their pay and working conditions are conducive to corruption, they are set up to be corrupted, and yet the vast majority are honest and honor the oath they take to enforce the law.
Nine years ago, I was invited to give the keynote address at an event hosted by the St. James Police Civic Committee at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, on October 26, 2013, to honor members of the JCF serving in the parish and to raise funds to support their work. I was aghast when the police officer, selected for a top honor by the Committee for his dedication to service and the quality of his work, explained that because of the lack of available police vehicles, he was frequently forced to use his private car to respond to police emergencies.
Citizen Responsibility and Nation-building
I spoke on “Citizen Responsibility and Nation-building”. Since then, I have keenly followed the trajectory of policing in Jamaica and the lack of a credible plan and effective actions to quell the out-of-control homicide rate in the country. Much of what I said are as relevant today as it was then. What has changed is that the homicide rate is much higher, and the solutions seem far more elusive. Hence, my words in 2013 are worth repeating.
We take for granted that we are entitled to a safe and secure environment in which to pursue our dreams and carry out our daily activities. We fault the government when it fails to fulfil its responsibility to us. We have every right to expect a first-class police force, and, with it, a society where crime is an aberration rather than the norm.
Conversely, we also believe that it is not our responsibility to help create a safe and secure environment in which to carry out our activities. However, dealing with societal ills is not the responsibility of the police, but rather is the collective responsibility of all Jamaicans. And, while we expect the government to have the primary role in solving these problems, it behoves all of us, and particularly those more fortunate to contribute to the process of ending marginalization of large segments of our society, creating a level playing field for all. To him or her that much has been given, much is expected.
I also said,
At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that those on whose shoulders we have placed responsibilities for our safety and security are, for the most part, under-resourced to carry out the tasks we have assigned them.
I offered a way forward; how to get to where we want to go.
We won’t get to the level we seek unless we insist on and demand of our leaders in government, business, and civil society the highest level of integrity. Adherence to the rule of law and exercise of good governance must be the clarion call of our nation. These precepts should be our call to action – an urgent and inspiring appeal to Jamaicans everywhere.
Our security forces, and in particular the men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, are our shield between those who would seek to harm us; between us and those who act contrary to law and order. That’s why our police must be fully trained and equipped to engage not only in the rudiments of law enforcement, but in building relationships with the communities they serve; and to serve in a manner consistent with the rule of law. We must ensure they receive the training necessary to carry out their assigned responsibilities; they must be equipped in their operational capacity to protect us, to protect themselves, and to be able to respond promptly when we need them. They must carry out their responsibility with integrity. That must be their commitment to the nation. We should expect nothing less.
Professionalism and service on display
Three days later, driving along the Bluefields road on my way from Treasure Beach to Montego Bay, I was stopped by two young police officers – a male and a female. The female officer approached my car and politely informed me that I had exceeded the “posted” speed limit. Although I had not seen a posted speed limit sign along this very tempting straight stretch of road, I wasn’t surprised that I had. I was very impressed with the professionalism of the police officer. Not only was she very polite, but she was also immaculately attired in her fresh uniform.
My initial thoughts were that Jamaica should be very proud of members of the JCF as represented by this officer. I was encouraged by this image of professionalism. I know the picture of perfection represented by this officer may not be representative of the entire JCF. But I also recognize that the JCF is a microcosm of the entire society. The members of the JCF for the most part represent the disadvantaged segments of Jamaican society. Many join the JCF to improve their lives but also because they want to contribute to orderliness in the society, to enforce the law and contribute to nation-building.
This young police officer politely cautioned me to drive carefully and warned me of the consequences of speeding and effectively breaking the law. Having fulfilled her responsibility, she politely sent me on my way.
I reflected on the fact that her personhood was not limited to her service in the JCF. She was someone’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, or spouse. She deserved to be treated with respect and we must be grateful for her service, as we must for all officers of the JCF who uphold the law.
They do their jobs under the most difficult and often degrading circumstances. It’s a thankless job for which they are grossly underpaid and are unprotected from bad actors when they are off the job. The slum-like physical environment of police stations are unfit for occupancy of any kind. Yet we expect them to perform as professionals and sacrifice their lives as necessary to protect us. Unconscionable!
I especially highlight these words from my speech.
The men and women who get up every day and don the uniform of the JCF deserve our gratitude and our support. They are the guardians of our safety and security. They are often ill-equipped and inadequately trained to carry out their responsibilities. Yet they put their lives on the line every day. They know not if at the end of the day they will return home to their families. They are the real heroes and heroines.
That is why I honor the rank and file of the Jamaica Constabulary Force as the Jamaican nation honors its seven national heroes and heroine.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post