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Editorial: Don’t weaken INDECOM

Published:Wednesday | June 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Rationale would hardly oppose the oversight of any organisation invested with significant powers, including initiating action that can lead to the curtailment of the freedom of a class of individuals. For, any such body must not only conduct itself with transparency but be genuinely accountable.

Our adherence to this principle notwithstanding, we fear the growing calls in some quarters for a supposedly independent oversight of INDECOM - the organisation that investigates abuses and misconduct by the police and the military - is a thinly veiled effort to erode its authority and effectiveness and return Jamaica to the situation where police and soldiers behave with impunity. In any event, it is a fallacy to claim that INDECOM (Independent Commission of Investigations) operates without oversight.

INDECOM was established five years ago in the face of a consensus, domestically and abroad, that Jamaica's constabulary had done a very bad job, perhaps expectedly, of policing itself. Previous efforts at independent oversight proved equally incompetent.

 

power restricted

 

Part of the problem was that these supposedly independent investigative agencies did not have the range of powers INDECOM enjoys. Further, their dependence of the constabulary for investigative manpower was counter-productive. Nor did any of the predecessor organisations have a Terrence Williams at its helm, which is, say, a leader willing to test the boundaries of his authority - as Mr Williams has done. So, the courts have upheld INDECOM's right to executive arrests and initiate prosecutions, although the latter right is subservient to the constitutional power of the director of public prosecutions to halt a prosecution at any time.

INDECOM, we believe, has made a great difference for the better. While a broader societal dynamic contributed to the general reduction in homicides in Jamaica in recent years, it's hardly debatable that the accountability imposed by INDECOM played a major role in last year's 58 per cent decline in police killings, to 109, or half of the annual average for the past decade.

 

old, bad habits die hard

 

But old, bad habits die hard. Jamaica's police force is comfortable with itself as a paramilitary organisation and with the idea of the organisation as the society's only buffer against being overwhelmed by marauding criminals. In that narrative, institutions like INDECOM are permissive mollycoddlers, whose actions demoralise the police, leaving the way open to the hordes.

It is against the backdrop that any proposal for an oversight board or directors must be carefully weighed, to ensure that it what is offered doesn't have a chilling effect on the operations and efficiency of INDECOM - a layer of bureaucracy that impedes, rather than helps, its operation.

In the event, INDECOM is not absent of oversight. It is a commission of Parliament, which can, at any time, call on it to submit reports on any matter it is investigating. As the government senator, Lambert Brown, argued, it is Parliament's failure why it has not organised a mechanism for periodic reporting or interrogation of INDECOM - like, say, a standing select committee.

People who feel hard-done by INDECOM have recourse the courts, as the agency must tell any who files a complaint with it, or whom it investigates. It is also subject to the investigative authority of the public defender. And the DPP can, at any time, end a prosecution started by INDECOM.

Pandering to fears induced by the Police Federation would be a grave error.