Po­lice hold­ing so­ci­ety to ran­som

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

MANY PEO­PLE will, not un­rea­son­ably, con­clude that Ja­maica’s po­lice force, play­ing on peo­ple’s real fear of crime, is at­tempt­ing to hold the coun­try to ran­som to re­sist ac­count­abil­ity. That must not be tol­er­ated.

The lat­est ev­i­dence of this are the re­ports in this news­pa­per this week of se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers repris­ing long-stand­ing com­plaints against the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­ves­ti­ga­tions (INDECOM) and how the be­hav­iour of that agency sup­pos­edly de­ters po­lice of­fi­cers from do­ing their jobs, in­clud­ing en­gag­ing crim­i­nals.

INDECOM, es­tab­lished six years ago, is the agency that in­ves­ti­gates com­plaints of mis­be­haviour against the se­cu­rity forces, in­clud­ing, as a mat­ter of course, all cases of fa­tal shoot­ings. It was formed be­cause the pub­lic had lost con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of the po­lice, who pre­vi­ously killed nearly 300 peo­ple an­nu­ally, to in­ves­ti­gate them­selves. And an­other shot by a quasi-in­de­pen­dent body did not fare par­tic­u­larly bet­ter.


It is un­clear that this out­come can be at­trib­uted en­tirely to INDECOM, but it is a fact that since its launch, po­lice homi­cides have halved. That, in most so­ci­eties, would be deemed a good thing. In Ja­maica, though, cops com­plain of INDECOM’s chill­ing ef­fect. The ar­gu­ment is that po­lice of­fi­cers fear be­ing in­ter­ro­gated and charged if they en­gage gun­men. So they drop their hands.

“I work on a team where peo­ple are straight front-line (op­er­a­tional of­fi­cers),” one po­lice of­fi­cer said. “Now, you can see the ap­pre­hen­sion and ten­ta­tive­ness in of­fi­cers to carry out cer­tain du­ties.”

We find the im­pli­ca­tions of that state­ment as­tound­ing, un­less the “cer­tain du­ties” to which this se­nior of­fi­cer re­ferred are out­side the law, or con­trary to the oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures of the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force (JCF). In­deed, no po­lice need op­er­ate with fear if they be­have in ac­cor­dance with the poli­cies of the JCF, which, on pa­per, are quite good.

Ja­maica, we ap­pre­ci­ate, has high lev­els of crime. More than 1,000 peo­ple are mur­dered each year. Its mur­der rate, head­ing to­wards 50 per 100,000, is among the world’s worst. The fear of crime runs deep. In the cir­cum­stances, the style of the para­mil­i­tary-type po­lice force, which de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for in­ef­fi­ciency and cor­rup­tion, was to fight fire with fire. It hasn’t helped that the coun­try has not put suf­fi­cient re­sources into cit­i­zens’ safety and se­cu­rity and that law-en­force­ment ef­forts are of­ten un­der­mined by a slow jus­tice sys­tem.

But what it clear is that this ap­proach to crime-fight­ing hasn’t worked. Un­til a de­cline – since re­versed – in the first three years of the se­cond decade of the 2000s, homi­cide, for nearly three decades, was on a sharp up­ward spi­ral in Ja­maica. There is con­sen­sus that the con­stab­u­lary as cur­rently struc­tured – no mat­ter what­ever else is done to deal with the is­sue – is in­ca­pable of beat­ing the prob­lem. The force, as Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, the for­mer army chief who had a stint as po­lice com­mis­sioner, re­cently puts it, is in need of trans­for­ma­tion, not re­form.

Its mem­bers, in­clud­ing se­nior of­fi­cers, how­ever, con­tinue to re­sist. Pro­fes­sor An­thony Clay­ton, who has stud­ied the force and has ad­vised on these ef­forts, has called for “strong lead­er­ship in­side the JCF” to over­come this cul­ture of re­sis­tance. That, how­ever, can’t be left only to the cur­rent po­lice com­mis­sioner, Carl Wil­liams. It needs, too, as Prof Clay­ton said, “con­sis­tent pres­sure from out­side”.

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