Editorial | Police accountability and the Tivoli report
The good sense of what the West Kingston commissioners had to say about strengthening accountability in Jamaica's security forces ought to have been added weight and relevance with the revelation about a single cop who has killed 21 people in six years, without, it appears, the brass of the constabulary not being overly bothered by his record.
Expressed another way, this policeman is responsible for a fatal shooting 3.5 times a year. Or, his killing rate is more than one each quarter. Even accounting for Jamaica's high level of criminal violence - and the data by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) suggest that Jamaica's police have, over the past three years, averaged 161 homicides annually - the frequency with which this unnamed policeman finds himself in the firing line renders him either exceptionally unlucky, or, assuming that there is nothing extrajudicial about his actions, foolhardily brave or unthinking. Either way, even if his behaviour was absolutely beyond reproach, this cop, in most rational jurisdictions, would have long ago been removed from operations with a potential for violence. His bosses would have been concerned for his psychological health given his involvement in killings.
Clearly, INDECOM, the agency that investigates shootings by the police, believes there are legitimate questions to be raised. Indeed, they have brought the record of this policeman to the leadership of the constabulary, but do not believe that the issue has been satisfactorily addressed.
"To be returned to duty each time and be responsible for killing 21 persons causes us some serious concerns when we look at all those cases," said Hamish Campbell, the agency's assistant commissioner.
This case, on the face of it, highlights the low levels of accountability which the Tivoli commissioners said were a feature of constabulary managers during the May 2010 security operation, in which policemen assigned to the Mobile Reserve were accused of the unwarranted killing of civilians. Yet, some of these police commanders, against whom the commission made adverse comments, were promoted despite being, as the commission put it, "in various ways negligent or derelict in their duties".
They recommend - and we agree - that this should not be the case. People ought not to be rewarded for bad behaviour.
GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY NEEDED
We support, too, the commissioners' call for greater accountability over the use of weapons by the security forces, especially the constabulary, where the problem seems greatest, as well as improved internal controls and external oversight of special-operations units, such as the Mobile Reserve, that are more typically to find themselves in confrontation with gunmen.
For, as Terrence Williams, the head of INDECOM observed, the units that are most likely to be engaged in such operations must have "impeccable accountability" and their members "must be properly selected ... trained and have a track record of proper conduct". That is the basis of trust.
In this regard, the police chief, Carl Williams, should be defensive neither about the INDECOM observation nor the recommendations of the Tivoli commissioners. He should begin the process of reversing the promotions of, or, having retired in the public interest, those of his officers who misconducted themselves during the Tivoli Gardens operation, and also tell the national security minister, Robert Montague, of his wish to implement the proposed oversight arrangements. At the same time, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should take ownership of, and build security reform into, his economic growth strategy.