Orville Taylor | Not sold on soldiers: Not copping out on police

They put the F in Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), but the last five letters of defence did not keep the suspects from doing what the public believes is more common among the boys in blue.

And as the cops arrested two, the military well-timed the dismissal of three others. National Heroes’ Day is tomorrow, but last week, ‘heroic’ cops did what police are supposed to do. True, when we need big guns and men and women steeped in the art of deadly force, indeed, get ‘Soljie’. However, my unwavering position has always been that in a democracy, the ‘House of Babylon’ must be who investigates and charges those persons in a society who wreak havoc on the rest of the nation.

The JDF’s spokesperson was precise and deliberate, and one would get the impression that the silver lining was the main story. Acting on intelligence, and using its own surveillance, our military tracked two soldiers as they departed Up Park Camp, monitored other, and tipped off the police, who ultimately intercepted an army vehicle laden with vegetable matter of the same colour.

Apparently reading from a book of fantasy, the soldiers felt that they could shoot themselves out of the predicament, but the cops did not blink and demonstrated to the renegades that their firearms are not water pistols. Eventually, the JDF top brass intervened and wisely told their members to surrender. Somehow, the question lingers as to where did they think they could go escape to? After all, it is not as if they are JDF M-16 rifles, which can disappear in thin air, although in basic training one is told that the weapon and the holder are one, like spouses, sort of like when one says one’s wife is one’s right hand.

More interestingly, the High Command says that the weapons discharged against the police are not military issue. Hopefully, the army knows enough to track those weapons.

This incident is easily sold as anomalous because of the grand narrative and stereotype that the JDF has proportionally fewer criminals and deviants than the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Indeed, the transparency international data demonstrate that on a five-point scale of perceived corruption, the army is viewed at 2.4, just like the Church and is even more trusted than media, which scores 2.9. Of course, police and politicians are at 4.5 each, with government being 4.1.


But that is perception. With far more external oversight, the travesties of the police are more readily noticed. Clearly, when a soldier carries out a heinous act such as shooting his spouse or her lover, discharging his private pistol in public, or other felonies, it cannot evade public scrutiny. However, there are many offences over which the army has internal jurisdiction that, allegedly, never get past Cannonball or Cotton Tree Gates, and no one wants to go to Duppy Gate to get the news.

Truth is, despite the campaigns, which sometimes vilify the police by telling citizens to contact the JDF instead, there is no evidence that soldiers are inherently less deviant. What is true is that police have, allegedly, more opportunity to abuse citizens, take bribes, and commit other crimes simply because they interface with the public more. Cats defecate on the carpets more often than dogs because they spend more time indoors not because they pass stool more frequently. If you put butter on the lips of felines and canines, which is more likely to lick it off?

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson two years ago correctly dismissed the suggestions that the JDF and JCF should be merged. Soldiers are not trained to police and will fail dismally if asked to do so. He noted, however, that “policing is about the process, about carrying through a number of processes and largely leaving the outcome to the court. It’s an entirely different type of modus operandi for the JDF.” Well said, Andy!


Still, in many ways, we get what we have paid for. Soldiers have better welfare provisions, post-service benefits, including for burials, and they can retire 10 years earlier than the average police officer with a full pension. In an organisation where the malice of the criminal element does not retire with them, crime fighters are virtually on their own. In fact, military personnel, who wear the same insignia as a deputy superintendent of police and above, keep their title even after death and must be given the respect by current members of the JDF.

However, unless it is personal goodwill, a former superintendent is lucky if a culiones canis calls him ‘Missa’ while saluting him with a different mace than which the drum major carries.

So, starting tomorrow, if we want more heroics, we must build more capacity in the JCF and make sure that when police officers serve well and depart honourably, we continue to support them.

– Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to [email protected] and [email protected]

Latest posts