JG - No to police-army merger
published: Friday July 29, 2005
THE EDITOR, Sir:
MR. SEAGA'S renewed call (Sunday Gleaner 12/06/05) to merge our police and army is ill-advised. Such an organisation, monopolising all of the coercive arsenal of the state, would pose a threat to democratic institutions during a national crisis. Today, because of the extensive geographic spread of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, they are counterpoised to thwart such a threat to the sanctity of our constitution or the legitimacy of our elected political elites.
Mr. Seaga's opinion that an army is a crime-fighting body is dangerous. The mission of an army is to fight a war or near-war situations, such as a national insurrection. Its training and ideology is centered upon combat and the use of overwhelming force within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. This is why the older, experienced democracies restrict the use of their soldiers against their citizens.
On the other hand, the essence of the police task is to keep the peace, protect property, prevent and investigate crime within the rule of law; not in the theatre of war. As such, both roles are diametrically opposed, but under both the Jamaican Labour Party and People's National Party, Jamaica has led the way among Caribbean states in the blurring the difference between our soldiers as warriors and policemen as peacekeepers. This cheap and simplistic approach reveals a profound misunderstanding of the nature of police organisation of policing and their relevance to the management of criminal violence.
HYBRIDISATION OF ROLES
For one, the more our army is employed in the arena of the criminal law, the less they are organised and prepared to use decisive force in an insurrection where the survival of our country is at stake. On the other hand, as our police become more militaristic and absorb a combat ideology, the less they are able to keep and restore the peace and to prevent and investigate crime. It is this policy hybridisation of roles, among other things, that has served to disqualify our police from effective policing and from public trust.
The management of sustained criminal violence requires the background threat of the use of greater force in such a manner that reduces the need to foreground such force. The employment of our army in everyday policing has reduced this possi-bility. The awe and respectful dread of local military force in Jamaica is not possible anymore, so the state's lone trump card is the U.S. Marine!
The situation that became evident after independence evolved because the architecture of our national security organisations had no middle level agency to confront sustained armed violence. So the coercive capacity of our police was upgraded while the suppressive techniques of an army had to be downgraded to meet this mid-level threat.
MODEL THE DEVELOPED WORLD
Most liberal democracies experienced this mid-level occurrence of armed violence during their development. Their response was to create specifically trained paramilitary police forces while maintaining a civil police service. India, the United States, Italy, France and Japan are some examples. Such a model is more tailored to current and future public safety needs in Jamaica. It is suggested that a merger of 1/3 of our army with mobile reserve could with special training and an aviation unit successfully suppress armed criminals. Our police could then get some breathing space to be transformed into civil police service able to embed community policing while the rest of the JDF be returned to barracks to fulfil its mission as defender of our Constitution.
I am, etc.,
Lluidas Vale, St. Catherine