Opposition spokesman on national security Senator Peter Bunting says the police force needs to stop reassigning its best and fittest men and women to serve in centralised units, as this is robbing divisions of critical manpower to fight crime, especially in rural areas where murders are now highest.
Making his contribution to the debate on the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act 2022 in the Upper House on Thursday, Bunting argued that specialised divisions such as the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch have not delivered, and that efforts must now be focused on strengthening rural police divisions by deploying members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) on a geographic basis.
“We have launched Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, and road traffic deaths have been increased by about 25 per cent since that branch was launched, so it can’t, by any means, be seen as effective, and public order in our towns hasn’t improved by any substantial measure,” argued the former national security minister.
“We have also formed specialised operations [branch], which is sort of like the old Mobile Reserve, and provide a tiered response capability, which is necessary. However, at the same time, we have doubled the size of the JDF (Jamaica Defence Force), which also can be used for that same tiered response capability,” he argued, adding, “So we have taken, for the 12,000 or so JCF members that we have, we have pulled out 15 per cent or thereabouts and put in these two centralised specialised units, meanwhile the rural divisions where we see dramatic increases in terms of percentage murders — St James, Westmoreland, Manchester, St Thomas — we have seen a reduction in the personnel in the boots on the ground there.”
He pointed out that specialised units usually draw from the younger policemen and women, who are in better physical condition, to conduct operations, which means the operational capabilities of the divisions are being depleted.
“There are a lot of older police personnel who would be doing administrative tasks, etc, so it is not surprising that we are seeing the increase that we are seeing in these rural police divisions,” Bunting said.
He said hundreds of personnel have been lost from these divisions over the past six years. These include members who have retired, resigned, have passed away, are on suspension, or interdiction, or have chronic illnesses which prevent them from being involved in daily policing activities.
Bunting lamented what he said was the stunted rate of growth of the JCF, pointing out that the attrition rate continues to outpace replacement over the past six years. He said increasing the size of the JCF and deploying personnel in an evidence-based, data-driven manner is the best thing that can be done for the force.
“There has been no net increase in the size of the JCF for the past six years. Efforts had been made to increase recruitment but for one reason or the other it barely manages to keep pace with attrition,” he stated.
At the same time, Bunting pointed to the latest crime statistics released by the JCF, noting that arrests have declined, which could mean that the certainty of being caught is also trending down. He made the point as he told the Government that emphasis should be on increasing the chances of being caught for gun crimes, rather than depending solely on harsher, draconian penalties and sentences. He argued that punishment, by itself, is a far less deterrent to wrongdoing, than the certainty of being caught, as criminals know very little about the sanctions for these offences.
“It’s important that we understand that this [Bill] is no silver bullet… we’re not, in all cases, saying some of the penalties may not be more appropriate, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that just by increasing the severity is going to have a meaningful impact on reducing our violent crime rate,” he stated.
The debate continues in the Senate today, and it is anticipated that the Government will seek to push through the Bill to its final stages. The Opposition has expressed general support for the Bill, but has major concerns with the mandatory minimum life sentences attached to several offences covered under clause five, including for simple possession. The Opposition has warned against removing the discretionary authority of the judiciary in handing down sentences.