I’m going to make a few observations based on some sort of first principles without reading around the topic; I’ll try to do that later.

Normally, pay can be related to performance so that at any level the employer can measure output and productivity and decide whether the cost of the labour input makes sense in terms of how for much the service or good produced by that labour can be sold. With public sector jobs, we do not have that cost and price relationship, usually only the cost side. Moreover, with some public sector activities, of which policing is one, it’s not easy to assess what is the output and what represents good productivity.

But, let’s take the mission of Jamaica’s police as to serve and protect. What can we use as measures of the service and the protection?

We can look at the general state of law and order and decide how much of this is maintained by the police force. We may conclude it’s low and that the police are failing in this area.

We could look at crime figures, arguing that if these are low and/or falling that the police are doing a good job. But, the police are only a part of the resulting crime figures. They must first know of crimes, then find and apprehend criminals, then they have to be tried and the judicial system stipulate what penalties the crimes attract. (Of course, there are some crimes, mostly minor, where the police can decide for themselves who are the criminals and levy the penalties, eg with traffic offences for which there are fines.)

So, on that basis, society could say ‘no pay rise without evidence that performance will improve’. Now, the police could argue that they are underpaid and thus demotivated in their tasks, so this requirement is unfair. Some would argue that this demotivation also comes with other problems in that the existing police officers seek to top-up their pay by doing activities that bring in more revenue, including corrupt acts.

Now, the whole matter of pay and motivation is complicated and it’s hard to know in general how true it is, and also what change in needed to raise motivation enough to get the police to do the job for which they are employed.

Society may feel this is an impossible problem to solve and throw up its hands and let politicians decide to do what they want based on other criteria, namely the simple budget arithmetic. That may work against the police, badly, though. We understand the police force is now about 11,000 officers. Applying the wage rate to that level gives the figure that is currently supported in the national budget for police pay. If it is to increase, it must come from savings elsewhere. Ideally, those savings can come from within police operations alone. But, that’s unlikely. But, if savings are sought within police operations, that must include the cost of paying officers. Now, it may be that the best thing to do is say cut the force by 10 percent, to 9,900, then raise pay for the remainder so that the wage bill remains unchanged. That’s a great solution if we could identify 1,100 officers whom we knew to be ‘useless’ or ‘rank under-performers’, so we would be left with the more efficient from the existing compliment. That would also have the advantage of attracting new and (hopefully) better officers, attracted by higher pay and the prospect of working in a force that is both better-motivated and more-efficient.

All of that abstracts from the social costs that come from job losses. But, we could take the view that it’s up to those who lose their jobs to do the best they can to find suitable work. The police force should not be a social service.

But, if the police force is adamant that it does not want to accept any job losses, even through say natural attrition, we may never find a solution.

But, fundamentally the issue of police pay must rest on whether the extra money is going to buy society better security. If that’s not assured, then one has to ask what buy this pig in a poke?

However, once we’ve gone through whatever exercise we do to determine police pay, other workers will try or want to redress the status quo. After all, other workers may need to see their pay relationship to police pay maintained. Costs may then rise over the whole economy. This may turn into a very familiar wage-price spiral. As a country just now enjoying a period of relative price stability, this is not a scenario that policy makers will relish.