It is with increasing regularity that members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are committing suicide, and in some instances they murder spouses and lovers prior as a prelude to the final act. The trend is very alarming and the citizenry is left to ponder the psychological well-being of the men and women that took the oath to protect and serve the nation. The current pall that is over the JCF as a result of the dastardly acts will get even worse if contemporary research about depression is credible. Researchers predict that depression will trail only heart disease as the leading cause of disability worldwide by the year 2020, and as such it is quite prudent to postulate that increasing in depression is likely to be the catalyst for even further spikes in egregious harm and suicides.
Very often we hear that the police are stressed out but we must be careful not to confuse stress with trauma. Stress happens, but trauma happens to you. Stress is a part of our daily lives and there is good stress and bad stress. Importantly, stress can be managed in a variety of ways, such as regular exercise, moderation in habits such as smoking and the consumption of alcohol, and even simple exercises such as deep breathing can be therapeutic. Trauma, on the other hand, either runs over you like a freight train or accumulates over time to become an excruciating load that must be treated by proficient therapy and/or medication. However, many police officers do assume that they should always be strong and shudder at the thought of displaying weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Therefore, even in moments when they are feeling overwhelmed, they will not confide in anyone, and the consequences can be catastrophic and can have immediate demoralising effects on the police force.
While there are chaplains, pastors, and mental health professionals that are available to the police force, the Government should invest in the services of at least one police psychologist who understands and can treat the specific traumas that are symptomatic of policing. The Ministry of National Security and stakeholders of criminal justice should be cognisant that inordinate suicides will further damage the integrity and legitimacy of the JCF. Also, because people who are suicidal are sometimes homicidal, they will often engage in varying degrees of mayhem before they end their own lives. In those moments of delirium, life loses its sacredness and no one is safe, and even children are at the mercy of the perpetrator. It is indeed a tragedy that the spouses and loved ones of the mentally unstable officers become their victims, but other innocent and unsuspecting citizens and co-workers are also at risk. Suffice it to say, a proactive response to the growing suicide rate is essential in order to prevent greater atrocities, including mass murder by unstable officers.
The mental health quagmire may be more entrenched than we could ever imagine. We must ponder the possibility that police officers who have gone rogue and are engaging in overt criminal activities, including robberies and murders, are mentally ill. It is known that some officers are corrupt and their greed causes them to engage in extortion and varying degrees of criminality and barbarity. Such louts try to be discreet and have henchmen that partner with them in crimes and are generally exposed in well-orchestrated sting operations. However, to engage in daring daylight robberies, kidnappings, and becoming minions in criminal gangs takes a special kind of impudence that cannot be taken at face value. Such actions are beyond the proclivity to commit crime and speak to levels of irrationality that are synonymous with a sick mind. The leadership of the JCF must collaborate with the Government to prioritise mental health within the JCF. Not only does such dissipation erode the psyche of the JCF, it provides a fillip to the lawlessness that has engulfed the nation for the better part of the last 25 years. The activities of dirty cops give credence to the argument of the streets that the police contain a band of criminals who are more notorious than all others that stalk the land.
Rational citizens are, nonetheless, aware that the categorisation of all police officers as criminals is a misnomer and are grateful that the majority are decent, hard-working, and productive human beings who are dedicated to making Jamaica a safe and wonderful place to work and live. So the answer cannot simply be about punishing the scalawags that bring the JCF into disrepute, but should also be about ensuring that psychological evaluations of current and future officers become standard practice. The Ministry of National Security should therefore embark upon the development of specialised approaches for managing officers who are displaying questionable behaviours. Ultimately, the goal of these efforts is to give police officers and their loved ones access to services, support, and resources to improve their lives and to preserve the safety and peace of mind of all citizens. There is a perpetual stigma associated with mental illness in Jamaica and some police officers may be reluctant to access available services, but educating them regarding the necessity of sound mental health will change those dynamics.
It is also high time for the implementation of a carefully designed programme of mentorship within the JCF that will allow the newer members of the force to be groomed by the many respectable and upright senior officers in the organisation. New officers must not only be grounded in the rudiments and theories of policing, but should be systematically trained to become professionals that the entire society can admire and the youth can emulate. Rookie officers graduating from the police academy should be exposed to a mandatory nationwide mentoring schedule during their first three years of service and should be expected to fulfil specific benchmarks in order to continue their careers. The new officers should be matched with experienced officers whose reputation is beyond reproach, and both mentee and mentor should engage in varying formats of professional development that ensures that the panache displayed by young officers is genuine.
A dynamic mentorship programme will empower young officers to become introspective of their personal development and a more positive collegial environment will evolve in the JCF. There should, therefore, be peer evaluations, discussion of best practices in policing, developing human relation strategies, and the provision of feedback on areas of potential improvement. The police mentor must be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned in to the needs and concerns of the new officers in order to forge meaningful relationships. Mentorship is not only important, but transformative, especially for police officers from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Those of us who have engaged in mentorship at any level are aware that lending an hour or two of our time on a weekly basis can help to modify the perspective and life trajectory of a young, impressionable person.
Mentorship must be an undertaking that should also include members of the business community and academia. The progress of officers must be tracked over time to produce data that will ascertain the effectiveness of the programme. Effective application of this tool will help to retain committed police officers but will simultaneously eliminate those officers who are ineffective or possess persistent criminal tendencies. Mentorship will enable new police officers to master the multiplicity of tasks that characterise their job, and officers will be more apt to be passionate about their careers. Mentorship will not prevent or cure mental illness, nor will it remove the traumatic baggage that some officers carry. It will, however, engender an atmosphere of belonging and trust that will allow them to identify peers and superiors in whom they can confide when they are feeling overwhelmed.