“I grew up in war-torn community where there was gang rivalry. I was affected by the gunshots and murders and it gives me a vivid picture of what some of these children are going through.” – Corporal Ricardo McAlpin, Community Safety and Security Branch.
Daily, a Jamaican police officer on the frontline is likely to encounter children in unfortunate circumstances whether they be victims, witnesses or perpetrators, but knowing how to protect such vulnerable children takes special skills. UNICEF recognizes this challenge and so decided to partner with the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), on the recently completed Child Rights Sustainability Initiative to help ensure more child-friendly policing.
Police showing more empathy
The CCDC themselves reported being pleasantly surprised by how the JCF embraced the new approach. “I went into this with a lot of preconceptions about police officers,” admits CCDC’s Child Rights Education Project Leader, Heather Gallimore. “Of all the groups I’ve worked with: social workers, the Child Development Agency (CDA), Ministry of Education Guidance and Counselling Officers, hundreds of Juvenile Correctional and Probation Officers; the police have grasped what we’re saying with more empathy and passion than the others.”
We spoke with two policemen involved in the initiative, themselves proud fathers who channel their concern for children into their work. The child rights training changed their own preconceptions about interacting with children. A lack of appreciation for children’s rights, and respect for children’s voices, can help create a silence that prevents them from being able to report crimes abuses or being listened to when they do.
Best interests of the child
The phrase ‘best interests of the child’ was one repeated by McAlpin and his colleague Sergeant Neil Anthony Brown from the St Ann divisional headquarters. Indeed, it is at the heart of the initiative and especially the Child Interaction Policy and Procedures (CIPP), which guides police to be more considerate in their own behaviour towards children. Both officers were among those who contributed towards the development of CIPP in 2015. A soon-to-launch Child Interaction Database will log police encounters with children; and stakeholders identified ways to improve the effectiveness of the Multi-Agency Response to Child Abuse (MARCA).
“I believe that some people are misguided as to how we should approach children,” says Brown, who was voted Jamaica’s top cop of the year in 2010. He recounts visiting a PTA session recently where a mother declared, ‘My child cannot tell her anything, the child have to do what she says and that’s it.’ Perhaps thanks to the training, his response was to question the mother if her stance was in the best interests of her child.
Fatherhood and policing
He applies that same thinking himself as a father: “My second daughter just called and she’s telling me she passed to her choice of high school and I didn’t want her to go there. But that’s her choice and she outlined her reasons. I believe it’s my duty to explain my reasons but then in the long run if I should force her to go to my choice of school and then she will go and her performance tumbles – then whose fault will that be? So, we agreed and she’s going to her choice of school!” Brown concludes, with a smile.
As McAlpin adds, officers must give greater consideration not just to children as being a special population, but due to their individual special circumstances. He contends that exposure to often adult situations results in many children thinking several years ahead of their biological age. During training sessions, McAlpin says he works hard to sensitize colleagues about some of these pressures and how they might manifest in so-called ‘uncontrollable’ behaviour by some children.
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) June 16, 2017
Childhood scars remain
“I remember as a child the nervousness, the anticipation of who will die next. These things keep playing in my mind even as an adult,” says McAlpin.
Performing as ‘Wowski’, he has gone onto develop his own programme called Fighting Crime with Rhyme, using his deejaying skills to address different audiences, whoever will listen be they children, parents, communities, corporate Jamaica and all aspects of performing. “I’ve been challenging some of the negative sub-cultures that are permeating their minds daily: gang life is a dead end. Scamming is a wrong thing; brain power over gun power; informer must live.”
Mentoring ‘uncontrollable’ children
Meanwhile, in St Ann’s Bay at the Marcus Garvey Youth Centre, Brown has been helping to run the Behaviour Intervention and Disciplinary Support (BIDS) mentorship programme since 2009 where he persuades schools to send children at the risk of exclusion. It’s a different side to police work but one that allows him to apply both his professional and parenting skills, starting with 13 students from Aabouthnott Gallimore High School.
He recalls being told by the principal that this was their last straw. But a deal was struck between teacher and policemen that allowed all 13 to join the mentorship programme. At the end of the year, only one was expelled.
“One girl, Shavel Blackwood was her name, was way uncontrollable. She changed her attitude and on my cadet programme she even got promoted to Sergeant Major; became my assistant and graduated with 5 CXCs; she was on the principal’s honour roll and a prefect by the time she graduated. She has a job, is married and even went on the radio with us – she still calls me Daddy!”