Revamping JCF recruitment strategy is wise

Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington says the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is moving to revamp its approach to recruitment in order to improve the academic quality of people entering the force.

Mr Ellington, who was addressing the annual conference of the Police Federation, tells us that under the prevailing system of recruitment "persons could arbitrarily turn down bright young applicants in favour of others".

The revamped system will apparently seek to ensure that an applicant's academic record as well as his/her performance during the written test is suitably weighted in the recruitment process.

In an age where, to many criminals, the cell phone and laptop computer are as important, if not more so, than the gun, this new approach from the police high command makes sense.

Hopefully a higher level of education among police recruits will not only lead to higher crime detection capability but a more reasoned approach to interaction with the public. Certainly, any development that reduces the incidence of senseless police shootings will be greatly welcomed.

However, academic qualifications apart, the problem of an undermanned and under-resourced police force can't be downplayed.

We are pleased to hear from Mr Ellington that the JCF expects to recruit 1,200 persons this year, compared to 800 last year.

The Economic & Social Survey for 2010 says the JCF strength was 8,814 at the end of December. This is more than 1,000 short of what it describes as "the new establishment size of 10,000".

In fact, for years, Jamaican Governments — of both political stripes — have spoken of the intention to increase personnel numbers within the regular JCF to 12,000.

On the face of it, Mr Ellington's aim to significantly increase recruitment should make a significant dent. The problem though is that the rate of attrition in the JCF is high and apparently getting more so. The Economic and Social Survey tells us that in 2010 the force lost 371 persons, compared to 274 the previous year. Retirement (44.2 per cent) and resignation (26.1 per cent) were high on the list of reasons. Intriguingly, those not permitted to re-enlist, apparently as a result of the drive to clean up corruption, amounted to 18.1 per cent of those dropping out.

The JCF's main auxiliary body  the Island Special Constabulary Force, which had 1,982 members at the end of 2010 — is also said to be 5.2 per cent below establishment size.

Given the demands on the police force, increasing the numbers — separate and apart from the obvious need for increased resources such as motor vehicles — must be a major concern.

That's the reason this newspaper earlier this year supported the plea by Treasure Beach residents for the Government to keep the police training post at Tranquility Bay. That call has fallen on deaf ears.

We are aware that the cost of a major and sudden escalation in the size of the force is a daunting consideration in these hard times.

Yet, there can be no denying the imperative of ensuring that the downward trend in violent crime we have witnessed in recent month continues. For that to happen we need the presence of the law on the streets, not just in the urban centres but in deep rural Jamaica where criminals are increasingly seeking refuge.

Be it 10,000 or 12,000, the Government needs to move quickly and decisively to get police numbers to the required level.