Editorial | Listening for the PSC
The Police Service Commission (PSC) has not publicly said if it has, or will, take up the constabulary's invitation to appoint a member to the panel to review, among other things, the conduct of police personnel who the Simmons Commission accused of dereliction of duty and negligence during the 2010 security operations in West Kingston. We believe the PSC should accept the offer.
But the PSC has remained silent about something just as, if not more, important, which goes to its credibility and can't be compensated for by participation in the proposed review panel.
The PSC is a creature of Section 129 of the Jamaica Constitution. Its role, essentially, is to appoint or promote and discipline police personnel above the rank of inspector.
The west Kingston operation was necessary. The vast majority of the soldiers and police who confronted the private militia of the crime boss and Tivoli Gardens don, Christopher Coke, acted with bravery and competence to blunt a serious threat to the Jamaican State. At least 69 'civilians' died in that operation. Disturbingly, the enquiry concluded that many of these persons were likely to have been victims of extra-judicial killings.
Further, the commission, chaired by the former Barbadian government minister and judge, David Simmons, found that a number of policemen, some of them quite senior at the time, performed their jobs incompetently. It is not out of the realm of reason to conclude that in so doing, they may, even if unwittingly, have provided the environment for an attempted cover-up of, if not the opportunity for, the illegal killings.
The commission observed that how officers who were either derelict or negligent were treated by their bosses would influence future behaviour by others in their organisations.
"If they are rewarded with promotions, then others may be expected to engage in similar reward-seeking behaviour," the commissioners said. "If their careers are negatively affected, then similar behaviour may be discouraged." Indeed, they named five police officers who they recommended "should never again be allowed to lead or participate in internal security operations".
Yet, the commission noted that since 2010, some of the named officers had received promotions, "in some cases to very senior ranks". Indeed, two of them, Donovan Graham and Winchroy Budhoo, formerly senior superintendents, are now assistant commissioners of police.
Surprisingly, the PSC has not responded to the Simmons Commission's observations. It has not articulated its procedures for determining promotions, which, obviously, begin with recommendations from the police chief. We assume there is more.
The fact is that Jamaicans believe that the vast majority of the members of the constabulary are decent, hard-working officers. A not insignificant minority, however, undermine the efforts of the majority, perpetuating the constabulary's reputation for corruption, crassness and inefficiency. Rebuilding public confidence demands hard work, mostly from inside the force, to guarantee that those who attain top leadership are worthy of trust. The guarantor of that confidence is the PSC.
It is not outside the realm of possibility that the commission erred in its conclusions about the named police officers.
Nonetheless, people should be assured that the PSC engages best practices and is not above reviewing its processes. Nor should it presume itself above being accountable to the people whom, ultimately, it serves.