Policing? What Policing? Redux

The Gleaner also published my letter about policing, in today’s edition. I only reprint it here, for posterity. The editorial changes are minor, but give a slightly different interpretation of one point (but not significantly so), so I won’t even highlight it 🙂

It’s worth noting that my letter was printed alongside an Editorial, The Police And Operational Protocols, which begs questions about how the police handle some routine operational matters.

Policing? What policing? The loss of integrity and professionalism

I had one of those ‘I’m mad as Hell, and I can’t take it anymore’ moments, yesterday, that are all too common in Jamaica, and wrote the following letter to the Editors of Jamaica Observer and Gleaner. The Observer published if today, and I’ll see if The Gleaner follows suit.

I omitted from my letter the police response on the rape debacle that they had no established protocol for transporting prisoners. Many were quick to say, protocol or not, there is ‘common sense’ and ‘decency’. Someone asked me last night, whether or not the transporting of the victim and accused may taint the case, in the event of an identity parade.

No sooner had I read my letter, than I read another story in today’s papers of how police bungling is causing more grief, this time because two police divisions could not decide which of them should be responsible for a murder scene, taking some 8 hours to make that decision before the body could be cleared. Read the report here.

Many people aren’t looking for the police to solve crimes and right all of society’s ills, but look to them to show a certain degree of integrity and professionalism that would give confidence that matters will be handled well. That lack of integrity and professionalism is something that no amount of words from police ‘high command’ seems able to change.

The police seem resistant to outside forces of change. By that, I mean the attitude to oversight is unashamedly hostile. Yet, the reason for that need–the many and disturbing cases of police misconduct–dont seem to be addressed in other ways.

People have in their sights an escalating murder rate, but my concern is that the many little things that the police are supposed to do daily and in dealing with a wide range of matters of public order keep showing them up to be less than competent.  For an economist, it would be an easy thing to argue the the function of policing ought to be taken away from the body that is now in charge of it.

Governments, rightly, are wary of tampering with police powers, but at some stage, with any organization, one has to ask if the present set-up can take you where you want to go.

Sheer madness? The road to ruin.

Insanity is often described as, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’m not not going to get into a discussion about whether Albert Einstein really said it. Simply, I often wonder if that is the state that Jamaica has found for itself.

That would help us understand why road repairs are done so that when heavy rains come and wash over the thin surfacing that has been applied to the marl the repairs are soon undone and a road crew is again at work doing repairs.

20130917-232725.jpgIt’s easy to believe that if any minimum standards are applied to this job, it’s using the minimum of materials and the minimum of sense. Smart and cynical people will quickly jump up and cry “Corruption!” “Kick backs!” “Jobs for dem friends!” and similar near-slanderous utterances. Some government minister will stand up and deny wrong doing and then oversee more doing the wrong thing. Keep it simple, stupid. The people’s money is being wasted!

There’s a lovely down hill stretch of road that has just had some holes repaired, and the surface glistened with new asphalt. Then down came a huge downpour this afternoon. You guessed it: the surface is coming off and the marl is peeping through. So, a mere week of smooth surface and saving on wheel and tyre repairs, and off we go again.

We’ve spawned new jobs from these practices. In many areas, people make a living from fixing potholes. Some do good filling in jobs. Some just place rocks that are too big in holes and dress them up with some green leaves, then stand on the road side with hands out for money, having warned you of the hazard and only moving the rocks if you pay. You can even get pothole repair kit.

20130917-233713.jpgI love it that I see a stand near Barbican, where some guys have wheel rims stacked up almost as prettily as nearby fruit and vegetable stalls. Now, I don’t know where they got the rims–I always check that my wheels are still on my car before I drive off from some parking spot. This is a desperate economy. Anyway, I’m sure they get much business not from car style fashionistas, but from those who’ve just rammed another hole and mashed up the car’s front end.

It spawns anti-social behaviour. I dropped a class mate of my daughter’s home this afternoon. She lives in an upscale neighbourhood, which probably has the most potholes per square meter in uptown Kingston. On the way back from the drop off, I noticed the van in front of me heading off into some bushy open lot. I watched as the vehicle took a diagonal line to cut off the approaching corner and reenter the real road some 30 meters ahead. I followed the paved but pocked real road, then looked back to where the van had been. My daughter had piped up that the route it had taken was new. But, I saw otherwise: a clear and well-worn path. This was now the preferred route to avoid the potholes: drive through someone else’s land. I must say that I will be tempted to try the offroad thing next time I’m in that area. So, whoever owns that vacant lot, please don’t develop it yet.

Technology may be about to save us, at least in part. I see that there are pothole alert apps available. Some places also could use a ‘crowd sourcing’ program (http://www.citysourced.com/default.aspx) to be informed of places in need of repair. But, truth is, we know where the problems are. What we need are permanent or longer lasting fixes.

I really want to make the analogy with economic policies. Need I go further?