INDECOM good for JCF

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

LIKE MANY peo­ple in the so­ci­ety, Mikael Phillips, the mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Manch­ester North Western, ap­pears more con­cerned with form than sub­stance, with how things look, rather than what they ac­tu­ally are. He complains, there­fore, that it “doesn’t look good” that the con­stab­u­lary and the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­ves­ti­ga­tions (INDECOM), the agency that probes al­le­ga­tions of ex­tra­ju­di­cial con­duct by the po­lice, are at odds, os­ten­si­bly, over how the lat­ter goes about its job.

So, Mr Phillips wants an ex­ter­nal me­di­a­tor to help the par­ties work through their sup­posed dif­fer­ences, at the end of which, pre­sum­ably, there will be no more public wash­ing of their dirty linen. And after their in­sti­tu­tional cry-in, per­haps, INDECOM will be far less ro­bust, or, as some of crit­ics claim, abra­sive in ful­fill­ing its man­date.

In its six years of ex­is­tence, INDECOM has not been pop­u­lar with the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force (JCF) and some sec­tions of public opin­ion. It has, the com­plaint goes, cramped the style and ef­fec­tive­ness of so­called front-line crime fight­ers who con­front Ja­maica’s dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals. These op­er­a­tives fear be­ing charged for var­i­ous of­fences, caus­ing them, even if vin­di­cated, to in­cur sub­stan­tial le­gal ex­pense.

But it is worth re­call­ing why INDECOM was es­tab­lished and what has been the re­sult: the public lost con­fi­dence in the po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate them­selves. Be­fore INDECOM, po­lice homi­cides were well over 200 an­nu­ally and there were per­sis­tent claims that most of these were ex­tra­ju­di­cial. Last year, the po­lice killed fewer than 100 cit­i­zens. The fig­ure is still high by global stan­dards but head­ing in a di­rec­tion that is closer to nor­mal.

We be­lieve there is value in INDECOM’s over­sight, which, judg­ing by the cam­paign against the agency, is not a view shared, it would seem, by a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity, in­clud­ing some se­nior of­fi­cers of the con­stab­u­lary. A fort­night ago, this news­pa­per quoted a se­nior cop as say­ing that po­lice of­fi­cers, when trav­el­ling to crimes in­volv­ing gun­men, of­ten take the long route so as to avoid en­gag­ing the crim­i­nals to dodge pos­si­ble charges by the over­sight agency.

TEN­SION BE­TWEEN AGEN­CIES

These claims were fol­lowed by last week’s ev­i­dence be­fore Par­lia­ment’s Public Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee (PAAC) by two of the con­stab­u­lary’s brass that echoed the con­cerns of mem­bers about le­gal bills and blam­ing the at­ti­tude of INDECOM’s boss, Ter­rence Williams, for the ten­sion be­tween the two agen­cies and the fail­ure to es­tab­lish an over­ar­ch­ing pro­to­col for co­op­er­a­tion.

Such a pro­to­col would be use­ful. But in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, Ter­rence Williams’ per­son­al­ity, or abra­sive­ness, should mat­ter naught to po­lice of­fi­cers who go about their jobs pro­fes­sion­ally, in ac­cor­dance with the law and the con­stab­u­lary’s de­clared poli­cies. A drop­ping of hands, as some se­nior of­fi­cers sug­gest is the case, is tan­ta­mount to an at­tempt, by those who do it, to hold the public at ran­som.

Ja­maica’s po­lice do a dif­fi­cult, and of­ten dan­ger­ous, job. But an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this fact is not an ar­gu­ment for ar­bi­trari­ness, im­punity or an ab­sence of ac­count­abil­ity.

Po­lice of­fi­cers no doubt have con­cerns about the le­gal costs when they come in con­flict with the over­sight agency, but that is an ar­gu­ment de­serv­ing of at­ten­tion from their em­ploy­ers and pro­fes­sional or­gan­i­sa­tion, rather than one for ei­ther ten­ta­tive­ness or re­treat by INDECOM. In­deed, there are signs that ro­bust over­sight is help­ing to make the JCF a bet­ter po­lice force.

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