The strained relationship between the Police and members of the Western Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens, that existed for many years, seems to be at an end.
Community policing, which previously was non-existent or very challenging, has taken root in the area, with many of the residents welcoming the change.
Deputy Superintendent of Police in charge of the Tivoli Gardens Police post, Renford Rowe tells JIS News that since the establishment of the post in the community on June 24, days after the joint Police/Military operation in the area, the relationship between the police and the citizens has improved.
He says this has resulted from the professional approach the police have taken through their community policing initiative, and the willingness of the residents to co-operate.
Deputy Superintendent of Police in charge of the Tivoli Gardens Police post, Renford Rowe.
“It is not something that happens overnight, but incrementally. Every day we go out there, you can actually see that more and more of the residents are buying into what we are trying to achieve here, because of the skill and professionalism that we are displaying,” he says.
Mr. Rowe argues that the success is a major achievement that must not be underestimated, because getting the trust of the residents has been a difficult hurdle to cross. He explains that the community policing strategy now being used is multi-faceted and is very instrumental in maintaining a strong community-police relationship in Tivoli Gardens.
“The Commissioner (of Police) has deployed personnel with knowledge and experience. So, it is not just my staff and I who are doing the day-to-day policing in the area, but we have other police personnel and resource persons who have to go out there and make sure that some of the anomalies that would have caused people to look for an informal kind of leadership, are taken care of,” the Deputy Superintendent tells JIS News.
“We had to let them know that we are not the enemy and that we are here to help them get over some of the moral decay that exists. They are supportive of the activities because people are smart, what they look for is how they are treated. What they do is try to assess what you are trying to do and because of our professionalism and how we go about our duties with respect, they support us,” Mr. Rowe says.
He explains that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is on a mission to transform the community, and it is a mission that members cannot afford to fail.
“We are not going to hand over this community back into the sort of informal situation that once existed. We are going to win this battle and we are going to build a solid relationship between the citizens and the police,” DSP Rowe emphasises.
Marva, a member of the community, tells JIS News that she does not have a problem with the police.
“Community policing is taking its course step by step, because they (Police) are trying to communicate with us. You won’t find everybody embracing the police, because a lot of persons have not gotten over what happen fully, but I think eventually it will work,” she says.
“What I like is that they walk the community and try to find out if we are alright and I like that. That is how I get to meet some of the police and they seem to be very nice persons. I am in support of what they are doing, because it is a step forward,” Marva says.
Casey, another community member, shared similar sentiments. “There is a difference in the relationship between the police and citizens, because they are not roughing us up like what they did in the state of emergency. Now they are trying to be friendly and help us,” she tells JIS News.
Woman Constable D. Hammond Distant and Sergeant Nicholas Charlton are two of the specially assigned police officers who have been instrumental in helping to make community policing a way of life in the area.
Constable Distant tells JIS News that the journey has been a difficult one, but very rewarding.
“It was very difficult for some of the citizens to trust me as a police at first. When you are in discussion with them, they continue to remind you of the experiences that they had before. Some people welcome you, but for another set it’s difficult,” she says.
According to Constable Distant, her strategy to get the citizens to be open with her, is to relate to them with respect and allow them to express themselves freely.
“Initially they bashed me, they weren’t very open and I think that it is because they were traumatised. They did not want to talk to me, because they used to say they don’t like police and soldiers and I expected some of that. But right now, people who used to say they don’t like the security forces or anyone in uniform, those are the same people who are coming now and talking to me and asking me how I am doing. I knew they would come around, once I developed that relationship with them,” she says.
For Sergeant Charlton, who was also specially picked by the Commissioner to be based in Tivoli Gardens, he enjoys working with the children and looks forward to each day in the community.
“I have been here since the inception of this post. It is challenging, but the relationship between the police and citizens of this community has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when we could not patrol this community and I am proud to say that I am a part of that initiative,” he tells JIS News.
Meanwhile, DSP Rowe says the community, when fully transformed, will again be seen as a model community.
“Through our success and what we are going to achieve here, it will be a model, not only for Jamaica but other places in the world. This community was a very difficult place for the police, because of what existed before, but we have broken that down and with the ever improving situation every day, it is going to be a model for other communities,” he argues.
Community policing is both a philosophy and an organisational strategy that allows the police and the community to work closely together in new ways to solve the problems of crime, illicit drugs, fear of crime, physical and social disorder, neighbourhood decay, and to improve the overall quality of life in the community.