It began in the parish of St. James in July, 2004 with 15 persons recruited as pioneers in a pilot programme being implemented by the Department of Local Government.
Today, in four of the parishes in western Jamaica, the cadre stands at 51 officers, and they can be seen in the town centres of Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland; Lucea, Hanover; Falmouth, Trelawny and Montego Bay, St. James.
The necessity for the establishment of this cadre of persons came about because of the terrible traffic congestions, caused most times by unruly behaviour, which often occurred in towns in the region, as well as illegal street vending, mounting of illegal billboards and failure to secure trading licences, among many other anti-social activities, which fall under the responsibilities of the local authorities.
St. James Municipal Police Officer, Julian Rodney, who has special responsibility for the enforcement of the Places of Amusement Act, goes over an application for a planned entertainment event.
This led to the establishment of the Municipal Police Force within the Parish Councils in the western region, starting in St. James then extending to Hanover, Westmoreland and Trelawny, by March, 2008. The men and women who signed up to serve in the Force have been given specialised training, and are sworn District Constables with the power of arrest.
The duties of the Municipal Police Officers can be categorised into three main areas, namely: Operations, Revenue Collections and Compliance/Enforcement. The emphasis is placed on various areas, according to the requirements of each parish. They are often supported by the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF), which works very closely with the Local Authorities.
Secretary/Manager of the Hanover Parish Council, Patricia Sinclair-Stair, in an interview with JIS News, emphasised that the need for the Municipal Police within the parishes is very great. She added that there is now a lobby within the Local Authorities to further support them with Municipal Courts.
“Although the ISCF assists us sometimes, for us to do a good job we have to have our own (policing), and so it is based on these and other things that the Department of Local Government saw it fit to introduce municipal policing to its Local Authorities,” she stated.
“And the next thing that we are working at, and hope that it will come into being soon to compliment the work of the Municipal Police, is the Municipal Court,” she said.
She argued that the establishment of the Municipal Court is necessary, as the Local Authorities are now having a hard time getting their matters heard in the Resident Magistrate’s Courts, because of the vast amount of civil matters clogging that system.
Mayor of Montego Bay and Chairman of the St. James Parish Council, Councillor Charles Sinclair Jnr., told JIS News that although revenue generation is not the primary aim of the Force, since their introduction, the St. James Parish Council has seen a noticeable increase in revenues. He said the effectiveness of the Officers has led to a compliance rate within the town and its environs of about 98 per cent, in terms of securing licences, permits and other legal requirements for operating within those areas.
He said that in terms of barbers and hairdressers, in 2009/2010 the revenue collected from them was $2.5 million, compared to the 2008/2009 figure of $1.7 million. Noting that there has been no increase in fees, he confirmed that the increase in revenue had to come from an increase in the compliance rate, due to the effective monitoring. He also noted similar increases in other areas, due mainly to the work of the Municipal Police.
Both the Mayor and Mrs. Sinclair-Stair maintained that the responses from respective Councils to the activities of the Municipal Police have been favourable. They expect that once the teething pains are over and persons get used to being disciplined for abnormal and anti-social behaviour and activities, good social behaviour will become the norm.
They both insist that there is now a high level of co-operation from residents throughout these parishes.
Municipal Police Officer for St. James, Julian Rodney, in an interview with JIS News explained that in her day to day activities, there are times when she meets resistance, but that she takes great pleasure in exercising patience to get the public to understand the policies and procedures.
Ms. Rodney said that she does her best to ensure, for example, that persons go through the proper procedures when applying for their amusement permits and are only penalised when no effort is made to comply with the Places of Amusement Act, which governs entertainment activities and the display of advertisements related to such activities.
Municipal and Commercial Services Coordinator at the St. James Parish Council, Ricardo Rhoden, who has direct supervisory responsibility for the Municipal Police in the parish, had high praise for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the ISCF, for the assistance they continually render to the Local Authority, in general, and the Municipal Police, in particular.
He said that the establishment of the Municipal Police Corp has produced positive results, especially with regards to the maintenance of safety and health issues throughout the parish.