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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

The Police

The major police force is the JCF, which was established in 1867 shortly after the institution of crown colony government. Generally viewed as poorly trained, underpaid, and overburdened, the JCF generated the country's most persistent human rights concerns in the 1980s. Police auxiliary reserve units included the 1,500-member Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF), which assisted the JCF in large operations; the 1,700-member Special District Constables, who served as local police in smaller localities when called on to assist the JCF or ISCF; Police Mobile Reserve Division (PMRD), whose duties included controlling or suppressing civil disturbances, providing security for parades and rallies, and conducting raids related to marijuana and the Firearms Act; Parish Special Constables, who served in the regular force on special occasions; and Authorized Persons, with limited police powers. Larger cities had municipal police forces, but their functions were restricted to enforcing municipal regulations and guarding municipal property. A senior superintendent of police headed the JCF's narcotics unit, which has been the lead agency for combatting drug trafficking since 1974.

The JCF was reorganized in 1984. At that time, a Police Staff College was created to provide higher training and education. The school was located at Fort Charles near Port Royal at the end of the Palisades Peninsula. New recruits, called cadets, were required to take written, oral, and medical tests before being admitted to the school. They received an eighteen-week basic course in police law, self-defense, first aid, and drill. Usually, they were sent to a rural post for ten months of on-the-job training and returned to the school for a six-week senior recruit course before becoming constables. More advanced training was provided for constables, corporals, and sergeants in such areas as pathology, sociology, and political science. Completion of the advanced courses was required before being considered for promotion to a higher rank. Some officers and men received advanced training in other countries.

In 1986 the JCF had an authorized strength of 6,317 and an actual strength of 5,601, which was 3.9 percent below that of 1985. This figure represented a ratio of police to population of about 1 to 400. Despite an attrition rate in 1986 of 6.1 percent, the recruitment rate was 7.5 percent below that of 1985. The continuing decline in the number of recruits was attributed largely to attempts by the JCF high command to attract a higher level of recruits by raising educational and mental aptitude criteria. In 1985 only 181 of 5,418 applicants were accepted for training. Applicants had to meet height, age, and literacy requirements, as well as produce a certificate of character from a magistrate or person of similar standing and pass a medical examination. Constables were enrolled for five years, and spent the first six months in a probationary capacity. Reasons for the JCF's failure to attract qualified individuals included relatively low salaries, the high levels of risk facing the police, and significant reductions in the size of the police cadet corps, a major supplier of recruits in previous years.

In late 1987, the JCF comprised four branches: Administration, Services, Security, and Special Operations. Each was commanded by an assistant commissioner, with the exception of the Security Branch, which was headed by a deputy commissioner. In addition to providing physical security to visiting dignitaries, the Special Operations Branch was responsible for the Criminal Investigation Department; Police Marine Division (in charge of harbor patrol), located in Newport; and the PMRD, which was quartered at Harman Barracks, and made up of a Mounted Troop, the Patrol Section, Traffic Department (including the Radio Patrol Division), and the Women Police. Under a December 1984 reorganization, the Special Operations Branch also was tasked to combat hardcore criminal groups and individuals who target the security forces.

The JCF's Security Branch handled immigration and passport services. The Police Marine Division's harbor police operated in Kingston Harbour and a few other seaports, enforcing harbor regulations and carrying out rescues, as well as fighting crime on the waterfront. Customs Protective Officers (CPOs) checked the documents of goods going in or out of the customs areas at Kingston Harbour, called Western Terminals, and at the two international airports.

Under the Suppression of Crime (Special Provisions) Act, in effect since 1974, the JDF was authorized to conduct joint operations with the JCF in order to maintain the peace. The Act permitted the JDF to cordon off any area on the island while police conducted house-to-house searches within those areas without warrants. Police forces relied on the Act extensively, and detention of suspects "reasonably" suspected of having committed a crime occurred regularly without a warrant, particularly in poor neighborhoods. Almost all detainees were released eventually without being charged.

Until the 1970s, the police generally had a good reputation and were supported by the mass media and the middle and upper classes. The rural peasant and urban lower classes, however, generally mistrusted the police. Public esteem for police morality was lowered in the 1970s by increased newspaper reportage of allegations of police improprieties and brutality. An Americas Watch report documented an average of 217 police killings a year from 1979 to 1986, representing one-half of the country's total killings. The Jamaica Council of Human Rights reported that police killed 289 persons in 1984. Adverse public opinion resulting from charges of human rights abuses by the police prompted Seaga to reshuffle his cabinet on October 17, 1986. In the process, Winston Spaulding was dropped as minister of national security and justice. The public also increasingly questioned police competence as a result of the growing number of unsolved crimes in the country, particularly those involving members of political parties.

Data as of November 1987

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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents