Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial: The JCF needs help

Published:Wednesday | May 4, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Quite expectedly, the weekend murder of American missionaries in Jamaica has elicited not only an outpouring of outrage and sadness in the St Ann communities where they clearly served with compassion, dignity and respect, but is exercising the minds of public officials, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his national security minister, Robert Montague.

Apart from genuine human emotions, they understand that these deaths - of Harold Nichols, 53, and Randy Hentzel, 48 - will likely be reported in the United States and draw attention to Jamaica's problem of crime, in particularly its high rate of homicides, although very little of this usually spills over to tourists, around 70 per cent of whom are from the United States. The bad press on crime will probably be followed by a US State Department travel advisory reminding citizens about crime in Jamaica and urging them to be wary about travel to the island.

That is bad for Jamaica's tourism and the island's economy. So, there will be an expansive campaign by the Jamaica Tourist Board to promote Jamaica as a premier tourist destination and, subliminally, assure potential travellers about the safety of the country.

Domestically, as he has already been doing, Mr Montague will talk tough and threaten to return to the days of capital punishment, while the police chief, Carl Williams, will roll out the clichÈs. No stone will be left unturned, and so on. And none should be - for these and any other murders.

In that respect, we urge Dr Williams to accept the assistance offered by the United States in investigating these crimes - and more. Perhaps it is time for the Government and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to again ask for international help in appraising the police and to help in implementing their findings. That review would include an analysis of previous reports on the JCF and why they seem to have had little impact on the quality or effectiveness of the constabulary.

 

LACKING COMPETENCE

 

For despite the several reports over two decades directly on the JCF or related to it - such as that in the 1990s by former chief justice, Lensley Wolfe; the one in 2001 by the Police Executive Research Forum, and the Police Strategic Review of 2008 - the police force does not appear to have the competence to effectively investigate and solve crimes, in particular homicides.

Officially, the clear-up rate for murder is under 50 per cent, meaning that the police have identified a suspect, who is often never arrested and whose involvement in the crime is unlikely to be tested in the courts. In any event, that clear-up rate is likely to be vastly overstated. It is of little wonder that despite the periodic bellowing about the resumption of hanging, Jamaican criminals believe they can act with impunity. Murderers first have to be caught, then tried and convicted before they can be executed.

The failure to significantly improve the investigative skills of the police is exacerbated by the corruption, or perception thereof, that envelops the force and its seeming inability to transform itself from an old-fashioned paramilitary organisation into a modern, civilian-type, citizen-centred crime-prevention apparatus.

It would be a fitting epitaph to Messrs Nichols and Hentzel if their tragedy is made something worthy for a country to which they had already given much.