The job of the police commissionerSunday, August 01, 2021
LAST week I wrote an article on the functions of the minister of national security. I made great effort to outline that he has no responsibility or authority to direct or determine police operations. That is, in fact, the commissioner's job.
Well, as much as there are misnomers and misunderstandings regarding the minister's job, there are as many for the job of the commissioner of police.
So, as I said about the minister, let me also state regarding the commissioner that it is not his job to lead charges up a hill with a rifle in his hand. He is in charge of all police activities, from administration to operations, but charging across battlefields is not in his purview.
It is a really difficult job that has been held by many incredible people. It is being held by an incredible person now. It is also a job on which you are judged by one element and one element alone — the murder rate.
This is one of the many things that makes this job untenable. Let us go through a few more of them.
Firstly, the three-year contract. I often wonder who dreamt up this grand idea. Someone is expected to be the figure in the war against the planet's most brutal for three years and after that become a civilian? It is insanity. If you are a young man, say in your 40s, and get promoted to this post, your career can end at least a decade early.
So why three years? Are we looking for a short-term solution to our homicide problem? Because, obviously, three years cannot be a time period budgeted for a long-term solution.
To properly have an impact on the crisis you need a decade, at least! Any time frame other than that will just reslult in patching.
There should be no mandatory retirement age for this job, no contracts if you are a serving member of the police force, and no contract under 10 years if you are brought in from the outside.
Let us look at the way we judge success or failure.
Murder is not our only crime. In fact, it is the crime that most impacts the criminal, contrary to popular opinion.
Most victims of crime are criminals. This averages out to 80 per cent. The crime most likely to impact the regular citizen is robbery. This is a crime that pre-COVID was an epidemic for years.
Robbery is wide in its impact and in the ways it can be committed. This typically can range from your car being broken into, to a gun in your face. If you are going to be killed by a gun in this country and you are not a criminal and you do not have angry relatives, then it will occur during a robbery.
Thankfully, murders occurring through robberies are not common. But they do occur.
The impact of any robbery, though, is hard to accept. It hurts when some mongrel just takes your stuff, so it should matter to you as much as some killers killing some killers — because it is the one that poses most risk to you and your family.
So why isn't the commissioner judged on this crime? What, is it only the suffering of killers that counts?
Then there is the shortfall — the inability to use the current serving members to cover the gaps, as paid overtime for police duties is not allowed.
It is a basket to carry water and spillage is forbidden.
The question is, what's with the three-year contract? How does it help the Government? Why was it introduced?
Well the obvious answer is, it makes it easier to get rid of non-performing Government officials, to include the commissioner. I can see the advantage as an employee control mechanism but the people making the 'keep or cut' decisions are often not in a position to judge the performance of the person doing the job.
The job has so many dimensions that it is near impossible for all people to agree whether the individual did a good or bad job. Perfect example, Colonel Trevor MacMillan.
To the adult public of that era he got an A+. To most of the serving cops he was terrible. The statistics, if you look at murder alone, do not favour him — homicides went up by 50 per cent during his tenure — but he did great things in improving the image of the force. So how do you really judge?
Have you ever given thought that it is maybe too much of a task for one man? I have been monitoring maybe a maximum of 10 gang conflicts where I work in St Catherine. I find it an extreme burden trying to predict who will kill who next. I simply cannot imagine multiplying that by a variable of at least 10.
Maybe it is time to consider having three commissioners — one per county — and have three forces instead of one. Bear in mind, we are bigger than almost all forces in the world, barring the New York Police Department. We are even twice the size of the Los Angeles Police Department. There is logic to segmentation.
I think a return to no contracts under a decade should be considered or, as I said before, serving members should not have to sign one.
Mandatory retirement age should go and serious tools must be given to the person selected — those being correct numbers of boots on the ground and laws that are in keeping with a country at war with criminal elements.
If this is not done, no one is going to buy into the belief that the Government is serious about fighting the gangs. They, in fact, should start by making the minister's job non-political by using the Senate and having both parties agree on the chosen person. Then, the Opposition will feel less inclined to throw water on any steps the minister makes to win the war. They, by extension, would also be more supportive of the commissioner's decisions.
You may say I'm asking a lot, but it's really only a lot if you do not view the gang crisis in the tragic light it needs to be viewed.
In three years, 5,000 Jamaicans are likely to die violently primarily because of gangs. Some good people are going to be in that group — maybe you, or your son. The end of the crisis begins with the death of self-interest.
Start making decisions and start supporting the decisions for the good of country, not party.
Make appointments like the job of the police commissioner knowing that it comes with the resources so that the appointed person can achieve this murder reduction the public seeks.
Most importantly, embrace the idea that the gang problem is a war between us and them that needs to be won, and that this is the reality whether it helps or hurts your chosen party.
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