Transitioning to Citizen Security: The Challenge for the Police in the Caribbean

The other necessary change in the transition to an effective, democratic police force must take place in the minds of citizens. Citizens must begin to perceive changes in the police function and, more importantly, must experience for themselves treatment by police officers that is respectful of their rights, courteous and fair.  Citizens have to believe that laws are enforced equally among all citizens, regardless of social status, and that the  police are responsive to their need and will use only appropriate force to ensure a safe society.  However, the citizenry must not view the state as the sole provider of security from crime and disorder. citizens must resist the urge to allow or encourage the state to implement draconian laws that limit human and civil rights in a misguided attempt to control a spiralling crime rate.  Rather, citizens must accept the responsibility of helping to produce their own security by becoming co-producers of safety and crime control alongside their police.

This chapter analyses the evolution of the security sector in the Caribbean, describes aspects of the historical background and context of the efforts to reform the police forces of the region and explores the perceptions of the performance of police forces by Caribbean citizens. The main focus is the seven Caribbean countries (the Caribbean-7) in which we have conducted the UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010.  The chapter argues for a more thorough transformation of Caribbean police forces that is consistent with the notion of citizen security.

Policing under colonial rule:  State-oriented security
The police forces imposed by colonial powers in many countries during the late century or earlier had a number of common characteristics, as follows:
●    Their primary role was to maintain the status and prerogatives of the colonial political and social elites that ruled the country,

●    Police functioned as a paramilitary organization.

●    Police stayed in station houses, only leaving to enforce governmental crackdowns on demonstrations, riots and crimes against the colonizers and, to a lesser extent, major crimes against other people.

●    Authority and responsibility were held by top police officials only; officers lower down the hierarchy had little discretion in the performance of their duties.

●    Interaction with local people was limited to treating them as suspects or accomplices, never as resources for solving crimes or as potential crime victims.

The policing model deployed in the English-speaking colonial Caribbean was based on the Irish Constabulary, which was formally established in 1822.  This constabularywas designed to quell governmental disruption in Ireland and control political and social dissent. It was a well-armed paramilitary force that was primarily concerned with the protection of the state and not with the quality of life or human rights among the citizenry.  The model was implemented in the English-speaking Caribbean and other British colonies; the role of the police as protector of the state was most poignantly exhibited during the labour unrest in the Caribbean in the late 1930s.

The independence gained by the British colonies in the Caribbean in the second half of the 20th century did little to change the role of the police.  Rather than protecting the old colonial government, the police protected the newly independent governments.  The same was true for the nations of the Netherland Caribbean in which police served to protect Netherland colonial interests to the detriment of citizens.

Modern-day policing:  The citizen security approach
One of the first steps in the modernization and democratization of a police force was taken in London in 1829. The Peelian reforms, instituted by Sir Robert Peel, were based on the simple principle that police should be citizens protecting citizens from crime and social disorder.  As a symbol of their citizen status, the police were dressed like the gentlemen of the time and were not allowed to carry military-type weapons.  According to the premise underlying the reform experiment, effective policing required the confidence and the cooperation of the citizens of London.  As Peel wrote in a letter to the Duke of Wellington on 5 November 1829:  “I want to teach people that liberty does not consist in having your house robbed by organized gangs of thieves, and in leaving the principal streets of London in nightly possession of drunken women and vagabonds.”

The Peelian reforms required constables of the London Metropolitan Police and their administrative staffs to address crime and disorder in London proactively. They did this by establishing street patrols and engaging with citizens. The constables prided themselves on responding to citizen reports of victimization, investigating reported crimes and capturing and charging perpetrators. To accomplish this, they were assigned to geographical districts with the mandate to get to know local families and community organisations for the purpose of intervening early with individuals or groups that might perform criminal acts, and building trust and respect so that community members would alert them whenever interventions were needed.

This focus on police-citizen relations and citizen cooperation with the police relies on three principles, as follows: (1) citizen co-produce security in cooperation with the police, (2) police function as problem solvers, and (3) the police and the populace jointly seek organizational changes in the police and in neighbourhoods that will improve crime prevention and control. Community policing is a philosophy rather than a rigid set of requirements, and police agencies are expected and encouraged to apply the philosophy in ways that meet the specific, self-defined needs of the public. The underlying philosophy also implies a commitment on the part of the police to serve as a catalyst for local change through outreach, organizational initiatives and educational efforts that reflect citizen input and concerns. Community policing entails a commitment on the part of the police to greater responsiveness and accessibility to citizens (see box 4.1).

With the move towards community policing, police officials began to realize that positive citizen perceptions of the legitimacy and competence of the police were critical.  Legitimacy and competency are directly related to a police force’s ability to control and prevent crime, as well as ensure citizen security from disorder, victimization and insecurity. The role of the populace is essential for excellent and effective policing because if citizens do not report crimes to the police, cooperate in police investigations and alert the police to potential crimes and criminals, crimes are not solved and criminals are not removed from the streets. Thus, citizen population and cooperation promote partnerships with the police and the co-production of crime prevention and control. Neighbourhoods engaged in effective community policing yield nations in which citizens feel unthreatened by crime and sufficiently secure to lead productive and creative lives.

The Police in the Caribbean
This section provides a brief description of the main challenges facing the police services of the region.

These include, first, the challenges of improving effectiveness and responsiveness to the security demands of citizens.  We call this the problem of performance legitimacy.  The second is the challenge and imperative of integrity because corruption invariably compromises performance and weakens public confidence.  This issue bridges both performance and what may be called the problem of values, authority and legitimacy. The third challenge is to reduce abuses of power and to become more rights-regarding.

The Capability Challenges
The responsiveness and effectiveness of police services are related to capacities and capabilities.  Consistent with the size of the populations in the region, Caribbean police forces are small (see 4.1).  Still, police density is greater in the Caribbean than in Latin America.  There is a recurrent debate among practitioners on the proper density of police officers per inhabitant.

Despite the importance of this indicator, it depends on multiple factors, including the distribution of a population between rural and urban settings and the geography of the territory.

The fairly high police densities across the region suggest that, with the possible exception of Guyana and Jamaica, coverage is not a particularly acute problem. Perhaps the more challenging issue is the effective use of these human resources. Adequate police strength and density are conditions for effective service delivery and the protection of the population, but they are not sufficient conditions.  The effectiveness and efficiency of even the largest police services enjoying the best resources may be compromised by corruption.

The integrity imperative
The performance and values dimensions of legitimacy can be insidiously undermined by corruption.  One of the major barriers to the adoption of more effective and efficient crime control menthods and the meaningful inclusion of citizens in police operations is corruption. Corruption is particularly devastating to crime prevention and control efforts because of the detrimental effect that it has on citizen perceptions and subsequent actions.

Tankebe (2009) notes that, in developing nations, the relationships between the public and the police are fraught with distrust and alienation.  In Suriname and in Trinidad and Tobago, 89 percent of the respondents to the UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010 believed that governments should invest more in reducing corruption so as to lower the incidence of crime.  The respondents in Barbados were not as concerned about corruption as those in the other six nations:  only 71 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the government should invest more in reducing corruption.

The Jamaican respondents were the most concerned about this issue:  94 percent believed that corruption and crime are linked and that government should invest more in reducing corruption.  Accordingly, it is difficult to speak of the success of modern police reforms without simultaneously acknowledging the destabilizing role of corruption.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has a long and varied history in fighting corruption.  Corruption within the JCF was a major reason behind the selection of individuals from outside the force as members of top management. For example, Trevor Mac Millan, a former military officer, was selected as Commissioner of Police in 1993.  In the following two years, 572 allegations of misconduct were investigated.  This represented approximately 10 percent of the JCF at the time.

After Mac Millan’s tenure ended, the force sank back into a pattern of corruption. Currently, the JCF is again making serious strides in combating internal corruption, and it is achieving fairly good results. Commissioner Ellington and the Ethics Committee have aggressively identified corrupt police officers:  20 since the beginning of 2011, with 137 officers denied reenlistment in 2010 because of allegation of corruption. The JCF is attempting to reform the police culture from the acceptance of corruption to zero tolerance.  The Jamaican example demonstrates that the police can do something to control corruption and thereby increase their legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.

Reprinted from Caribbean Human Development Report 2012


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