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Throw the book at Brown's Town cops

Published:Wednesday | December 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Every time he is asked about his overarching strategy for crime fighting in Jamaica, Carl Williams, the island's still-new police commissioner, talks primarily about two things: running a professional outfit and rebuilding trust between its members and the public that they serve.

Indeed, Dr Williams claims that efforts on this front, even before he took charge of the constabulary, have contributed to a sharp decline in crime in recent years, including by nearly 20 per cent so far in 2014.

But whatever the substance of Dr William's analysis, it is clear that he still has much work to do in re-engineering the constabulary into an organisation that most Jamaicans believe is shorn of corruption and whose members will not abuse their power.

The experience of Errol Nisbeth, the St Ann-based blogger, of which he wrote in this newspaper on Tuesday, even if only partially true, underlines this.

Mr Nisbeth's breach, apparently, was using his smartphone to take a photograph in Brown's Town, St Ann. For this he was arrested, ostensibly for obstructing the policeman in the conduct of his duties, which, on the face of it, is ludicrous.

That, it seems, was not all. Files from Mr Nisbeth's phone were deleted and at the police station one arm was cuffed to a shelving bar above his head. He was denied access to a lawyer, and when he was being eventually bailed by family, he was mocked by police officers with jokes about either being unable to find the key for the handcuffs or being able to open it.

Dr Williams must have this case fully investigated and any police personnel found to have abused Mr Nisbeth's rights be brought to book. Mr Nisbeth, it would seem, has cause to seek constitutional redress against the individual cops and the constabulary, which he should pursue and which the police chief should probably welcome as part of his reform efforts.

While the Brown's Town matter might appear to be a small incident, anecdotal and other evidence suggests that it is not an isolated one. Perchance Mr Nisbeth fabricated the whole thing, it remains quite believable, for it represents what everyone knows is part of a deeply ingrained culture of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

We expect that there will be much spin from all sides in respect of the outcome of Monday's by-election in the Central Westmoreland constituency that was one by Dwayne Vaz of the governing People's National Party (PNP).

Mr Vaz, with a majority of 2,452 ballots, gained 58 per cent of the votes, one percentage point more than the late Roger Clarke's return in the December 2011 general election. In other words, notwithstanding the fact that the 38 per cent voter turnout was not bad for a by-election, there was no swing against the PNP. That is what we believe to be the crucial message for both the PNP and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

This, we agree, is a PNP safe seat. But the fact that the PNP was able to hold its majority despite the tough, but necessary, economic reform policies being implemented by the Government counts for something. It suggests that even in hard times, voters will listen and understand if they are offered a cogent argument.

And that is the lesson we offer to the JLP and its leader, Andrew Holness, whose political strategy, has, up to now, been based largely to highlight the difficult personal circumstances faced by Jamaicans. Mr Holness and his economic team have failed to engage in a serious discussion on economic policy, including Jamaica's current agreement with the International Monetary Fund.