BBC Cazribbean
03 September, 2004

Cops in Jamaica's classrooms

Armed police officers may be among those assigned to schools in Jamaica when the new term begins next week.

The officers will be expected to quell violence among students, reduce the number of weapons in schools and protect students and staff from outside attacks.

For the last three months, the officers have been receiving training under the schools resource officer (SRO) programme which was coordinated by the police's Corporate Strategy Unit.

According to the Jamaica Observer newspaper, three students died as a result of violence in schools while 25 students and teachers were injured in attacks in 2003.

The paper also cited a report from the Jamaica Teachers Association which said that rape was also a regular occurrence in schools.

However, the Association has expressed surprise at the decision to assign the police officers to schools.

Wentworth Gabbidon, president of the Jamaica Teachers Association, told BBC Caribbean Radio that they were not aware these steps were being taken.

"We agree that something needs to done and action needs to be taken to control the level of violence, not just in the schools but in the society," Gabbidon said.

"But we were really taken by surprise by the announcement on the news, because we were expecting that discussions would have taken place with us as the representatives of the teachers who work in these schools."

Gabbidon said the last he heard of the issue was several months ago when he was approached by a member of the police force who expressed an interest in working with the Association and the Ministry of Education to look at strategies on how to control the indiscipline and crime in schools and their communities.

"I spoke with the Minister of Education on the issue and I was expecting that we would have been called to meetings," he said. "I hadn't heard anything more until I heard the announcement that police would be in the schools on Monday morning."

The JTA president said he could not comment about the possible impact of the police presence in schools, as he was unclear about the terms of their deployment.

"I don't know what they'll be coming to do or how they'll be attired, whether they’ll be armed or unarmed," he said. "It may help in some instances but in other instances it may create apprehension and work to the negative."

However, Gabbidon feels the violence in schools is a reflection of the society.

"The broader issue is that we need to deal with the issue of violence in the wider society because what is happening in the schools is really a spill over of what is taking place in the wider society."

Deputy Commissioner of Police Tilford Johnson told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper the officers will be assigned "almost full time" to the schools and they will be integrated into activities that take place in the schools.