Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – SENIOR communications strategist of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Dennis Brooks has confirmed reports that the force is restricting the training of new recruits to people who have received COVID-19 vaccination.

According to Brooks, to prevent continuous disruption the JCF has made the decision, after seeking legal and medical council, that the best option is to continue the training of vaccinated individuals until Jamaica reaches a state of herd immunity.

The scientific advice of the JCF’s medical services, Brooks told the Jamaica Observer, dictates three options: cancellation of all training, facilitate all training virtually, or only train those individuals who are vaccinated.

“Given the crime and security realities, option one cannot be entertained. Option two…that’s not a thing. With the nature of police work, you need to be up in each other’s space in close quarters, learning how to do this or that. If we’re going to keep on training new members during the pandemic, it is to train them if they are vaccinated,” said Brooks.

“We have had multiple occasions on which we’ve had to pause training. We’ve had to pause training as a precautionary measure because there’s been a small outbreak, and then you have the delay in the start of training that makes you lose many weeks of training because of the quarantine period that they have to be waiting out,” Brooks added.

He said prior to the pandemic, the JCF had a mandate to significantly increase its membership by 1,500 per year.

“Remember that there’s a certain level of attrition each year, so we lose a certain number of our members each year. And so, in order to increase the numbers by even say 1,000 each year, we would’ve had to bringing in upwards of 1,500 people each year.

“We have brought on more facilities to train more people at the same time. So, we have Tranquillity Bay, we have National Police College of Jamaica in Twickenham Park, and we have Harman Barracks. Since the pandemic, the numbers that we expected to be able to increase the force by, we’ve not been able to meet that,” Brooks said, as he noted that Tranquillity Bay has since become a quarantine facility.

“At one point, we had to pause recruitment in order to reassess and recalibrate how the JCF recruits in the pandemic. There are other islands in the Caribbean who would’ve just completely stopped, because it’s next to impossible. We have found ways to try to continue in the midst of a pandemic,” added Brooks.

He underscored that the JCF has lost many weeks and months of training as a result of having to stop because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“That is the reality. COVID affects training more than any other formation in JCF. Naturally, because you have people in close quarters in confined spaces, that one case of COVID quickly becomes 10, 20, and 30 cases of COVID — and you have to shut down training altogether,” argued Brooks.

But one JCF applicant, who has been in training for five months, feels he has been dealt an unfair hand. The man said it is his dream to become a police officer, but isn’t in favour of being vaccinated.

He told the Observer that he was quarantined at Tranquillity Bay for six weeks until he was transferred to Twickenham Park on March 10.

“This is a dream being shattered right before my very eyes. However, I am content nonetheless. I have no malice or any grudge against them; I can just say that better days are ahead for me. I won’t fight them, I will just work with it. I am still on training as a force applicant. I’ve been here since January 30, 2021. It was communicated directly to me, by the director of training over here, that if I do not state that I will take the vaccine by Thursday midnight, I’ll be home Friday morning,” the man claimed last Thursday.

“It wasn’t in any attacking or aggressive mode. They are just trying to get us to reconsider…or persuade you to change your mind.”

Last Friday, the man told the Observer that he left the training camp after maintaining that he wouldn’t get vaccinated.

“I am on my way off the campus. Today is my day of departure. I would’ve got my letter telling me to leave after 12 today,” he said on Friday afternoon.

“At no given time before starting training we were told it was mandatory, and upon asking them, they keep on telling us it’s not mandatory. Yet, on Tuesday June 8, 2021 I was told that only vaccinated persons will be sworn on. My decision is that I won’t be taking it. That is my stance, as I would’ve already told them, and I have been reiterating it for some time. I don’t see why I should change it,” he lamented.

While he wasn’t able to speak specifically to those claims, Brooks said taking the position to facilitate the training of vaccinated individuals at the moment has been permitted by the legal services division.

“For those persons who are saying, ‘I don’t feel comfortable being vaccinated,’ or ‘I don’t want to be vaccinated,’ what that means is that we have to take the position that we respect your right to not be vaccinated. However, respect our imperatives that we are facing as a constabulary and as a nation,” he said.

“What we are saying is, ‘We cannot train you face-to-face at this time in this context of a pandemic. When the nation has reached herd immunity, when the constabulary has reached herd immunity, then we can return you to training.’ But, right now, we’re going to say to you that ‘We’re going to have to send you home and take the people who are in the long line saying, ‘What about me? I am willing to be vaccinated.’ ‘ We need to take those people and train them,” Brooks added.

“There is a backlog of people who have been waiting for their chance to become members of the constabulary. It’s their dream, and they are more than willing. I don’t see any other way that the science and good reasoning would allow.”

And, if willing, Brooks said the JCF will make arrangements for recruits to get vaccinated.

“We make provisions for persons to be vaccinated. When we were resuming training we constantly sought guidance from the medical services branch of the JCF. They would’ve advised us. When you come in initially you’re a force applicant and then you become a trainee constable. During that process, provisions have been made for persons to be vaccinated and, overwhelmingly, people have taken up that option,” Brooks commented.