Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Police panel good long-term model

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 7:00 AM

It is unfortunate that it took six years and that the constabulary had to be cornered into a probe into the conduct of its officers during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens operation, but the acceptance by the Police High Command of this recommendation of the commission of enquiry into the affair is a nonetheless important and welcome development.

Indeed, this undertaking is rendered more significant by the police's decision not to stack the proposed administrative review panel with only their own people, but to include at least one member each by the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) and another independent member, whose selection is to be agreed by the PSC and PCOA. However, the chairmanship, and the basis of decision-making of the group, will be of importance.

For, as it is now proposed, three members of the review team will be 'independents', with three others from inside the constabulary. Assuming that decisions are arrived at by majority vote and the panel is chaired by a member of the constabulary, with a casting ballot going to the chair, reaching findings that seem adverse to the police could be problematic. Moreover, in circumstances like these, with a likely quasi-judicial approach to proceedings, decision-making by consensus is, on the face of it, untenable. Moreover, whatever the panel's findings, it is important that justice not only be done, but manifestly seen to have been done. In that regard, we would suggest another appointee, preferably a retired judge, be named to chair the panel, or that the chairmanship be reserved for one of the independents, perhaps the one to be selected by the PSC or the PCOA.

 

JUSTIFIABLE ACTION

 

The Tivoli operation, in its overarching construct and intent, was a justifiable action to arrest criminal fugitive and Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher Coke, whose private militia not only resisted the attempt at his detention but threatened the stability of the Jamaican State. But, in parts, it seems to have gone badly wrong. At least 69 'civilians' died in the operation, many of them - the commission identified probably 20 - were victims of extrajudicial killings, mainly victims of the police's Mobile Reserve unit.

Indeed, the commission suggested that excesses in Tivoli were accommodated, if not permitted, by an incompetent ground leadership whose dereliction of duty made it difficult to identify and hold accountable those members of the force who may have been responsible for illegal killings. They named five still-serving police officers - Donovan Graham and Winchroy Budhoo, who were senior superintendents, but have since been promoted to assistant commissioners; Deputy Superintendent Everton Tabannah; and sergeants Steve Waugh and Mario Pratt - who "should never again be allowed to participate in internal security operations".

If this panel works well, it could be of value, on two fronts, to a constabulary that labours under a perception of itself as corrupt, unaccountable, untrustworthy and capricious. It could be the start of rebuilding of faith in the force, while providing a credible model for the conduct of future administrative reviews, which, in the past, were presumed to be whitewashes.

While the tone of some of the constabulary's responses to the commission's report seems defensive, they have generally been positive. It could be a starting point for genuine, sustained and required reform in the police force.