Like many other countries, Jamaica is no stranger to gun violence; however, there are few particulars that separate the level of violence in Jamaica from other countries. Of course, if you live in Jamaica and have never lived elsewhere, those nuances may be lost on you, and you may find yourself in the ‘violence is everywhere category.’
For example, Jamaica is a tiny nation of under three (3)million people, with a landmass of 4411 square miles or about half the state of Connecticut, one of the smallest states in the United States.
So when we say there are shootings in America too, a country of 330 million people and a land mass of 3.797 million mi², there is really no equivalence.
Yes, there are many shootings in the United States each year, resulting in thousands of deaths; nevertheless, the murder rate in Jamaica far exceeds that of the city of Chicago, Illinois, one of America’s most violent cities, that has approximately the same population as Jamaica.
For example, in 2020, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) stats show more than 700 murders in 2020 and nearly 4,000 shootings.
Conversely, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, (JCF), reported 1,301 killings in 2020, and a kill rate of 46.5, per 100,000.
Another defining difference between the two geographies is the accountability rate; in American cities, killers are arrested and imprisoned.
Even when they are arrested in Jamaica, judges turn them loose as soon as they are arrested, and they right back to killing.
Calls from this writer for mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes have gone unheeded by wha6 passes for lawmakers on the Island.
As a former police officer from Jamaica, I constantly harp on the inadequacy of the training of our Jamaican police officers. From time to time, people push back on those statements. They point to changes in the police training, (whatever that may be ), which they say now exists differently from that which existed years ago. This, they say, is also part of the restructuring plan the Jamaican government has embarked upon, and which the present Commissioner of Police must be given time to execute.
The police’s activities on the streets do not reflect any positivity from those structural changes. Neither does the burgeoning crime rate reflect it.
Training professionals in today’s work environment must be an ongoing phenomenon; it must reflect the changing dynamics of the times; this is hardly true of the JCF, which trains its recruits in colonial-era drills that has zero usefulness in policing.
These are pointers that I personally do not expect the Government at the highest levels to understand, neither do I expect the leadership of the force to understand it.
It is literally impossible to understand something that you were never taught. So, it is understandable, that the leadership of the force would still believe that training young police recruits in drills and silly maneuvers is appropriate and sufficient police training.
Drills are for ceremonial events; they are useful for making the self-styled elites feel important in banana-republics. They get a sense of power as they watch their subjects parade themselves for their viewing pleasure.
Drills serve no useful purpose in a modern and evolving democratic nation. It gives a police officer no leg up on an untrained criminal when he finds himself in a life and death struggle.
Our police officers need training in strategic thinking, how to envisage scenarios before they occur, and how to come out of those possibilities on top.
They need to be taught how to support each other without having to shout commands, not run away at the slightest sound of gunfire.
Officers must know how to maximize their effectiveness regardless of numbers based on their training, effectively countering threats as they evolve. A precision-like response should be automatic for every situation.
In recent times the lack of training has been evident from the encounters we witness between belligerent offenders and our police officers. We also see the same kinds of aggression leveled at security officers, and the outcomes are always bad for the good guys.
The killing of an armed Hawkeye security guard in Saint Catherine last Tuesday & the killing of an armed Guardsman guard in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, on March 3rd, and the injuring of two of his colleagues in the same incident, begs the question, are they being trained appropriately?
A uniform and gun/s do not evoke any respect from Jamaica’s criminals; even when the security officers are in numbers, the killers are not deterred.
Therefore, the difference lies in one thing, and one thing only, ‘training’ and more of it.
But as I intimated earlier, if the people at the top cannot understand that what they are offering their subordinate is inadequate, how can they change the offerings?
It seems that, at the very least, Hawkeye understands that training and strategy are paramount, even though they still have it wrong on Jamaica’s crime causation.
Sharon Laing, the general manager in charge of group human resources and operations at Hawkeye Electronic Security Limited, told local media entities that steps to revamp the company’s tactical procedures are already taking place, following the killing of one of its armed guards during a robbery in Portmore, St Catherine, on Tuesday.
That awareness is the sign of an agency that understands that every incident is a teachable moment that allows for introspection and change. Attributes that will ensure better future outcomes.
“Of course, we will be reinforcing our tactical procedures. We have not gotten all the information [about the shooting] as yet from investigations, and even though we have seen some already, we are still gathering video footage,” Laing told local media.
But then she went down the usual rabbit-hole; “There is an emotional escalation from COVID. There is desperation; there is a lack of jobs, and people have gotten fearless and uncaring. The robbers are now unconscionable. They are bold, unafraid, and are reckless to the point that makes them even more dangerous. In the past, a team being present, they would all depart. Now, there is minimal caution even towards the police force and any other security field member. This boldness has just put us on a higher level of alert, caution, and wisdom. If they can go to a church and attack in a church, it shows the country’s moral decay. Somehow, we have to reach the hearts of people to make some change. The heart is now hard and callous, and we have to find a way to reach those hearts.”
There is zero evidence that COVID-19, being asked to quarantine, or any of the factors outlined by this manager impact the people who are killing others.
They kill because they are allowed to do so in Jamaica and get away with it, because of the lax-laws and government interference in police operations.
We cannot remediate a problem if we are so grossly incapable of diagnosing it. As long as we continue to blame everything except the real causes of our country’s violence-prone propensity, we will continue to administer cures that do not affect the problem.
I give this manager and her company credit for at least recognizing the need to revamp and change course. A private security company is accountable to the companies that trust their resources to their care; thus, they are forced to act with expeditious dispatch to remediate issues like the one they encountered in Saint Catherine. Failing to do so will severely impact their bottom-line; worse yet, they could eventually be out of business if this persists.
The JCF, on the other hand, is populated with tone-deaf egomaniacs. They refuse to learn anything from the totality of the negative events in which they are involved.
There is no hope that a single incident garners anything but a passing glance for the force’s hierarchy, and then it is back to business as usual.
The fact is that they are far too comfortable in the ignorance that whatever they may know is not even close to being enough.
Mike Beckles is a former Police Detective, businessman, freelance writer, black achiever honoree, and creator of the blog mikebeckles.com.