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Editorial | Montague’s special police needs clarity

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2016 | 7:00 AM

There is merit to Robert Montague's pursuance of the police initiative to integrate private surveillance cameras into an expanded national CCTV network. It is an idea that this newspaper has supported in the past, for we have evidence of its efficacy from its so far limited application.

We, however, are not yet sold on the security minister's proposal for a "voluntary force of special district constables", of whose operational structure and legal basis he has so far given precious little detail. Moreover, for older Jamaicans, the idea sounds sinister, similar to the Home Guard of the 1970s, against which Mr Montague's party and its current leading grandee, Edward Seaga - as did so many others in the society - vehemently inveighed.

Three and a half decades ago, Jamaica, like now, was on a wave of crime. Murders soared. Unlike today, the country was in ideological ferment. The then governing People's National Party had reclaimed its ideology of democratic socialism. The Jamaica Labour Party, led by Mr Seaga, was firmly right of centre.

Ostensibly in response to the exploding criminality, Prime Minister Michael Manley caused to be established the Home Guard, with declarations now reverberant in Mr Montague's appeal to "retired policemen and women and licensed firearm holders" to enlist in his special constabulary. The fear of the Home Guard in those deeply polarised and ideological times was that the real aim was to create an armed wing of the governing party, capable of operating, if required, independent of the state's security apparatus. In the face of the suspicions, it never received popular support.

 

NO BAD INTENTIONS SUGGESTED

 

There is no suggestion of malevolent intent by Mr Montague for his corps of special district constables and we do not believe any is intended. Indeed, retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Errol Strong, who apparently is organising the body, would unlikely lend his name to an untoward scheme. Mr Montague's effort, we accept, is a genuine attempt to confront a crisis.

However, it is important that the creation of a new police auxiliary, especially one that is voluntary, be subject to a robust conversation about its philosophy, structure and legal underpinnings. People should know about the planned size, command structure and its basis of recruitment, outside of retired or former members of the constabulary and gun owners who may happen to hold permits.

To what other evaluations will they be subjected, including, perhaps, psychological and polygraph tests? Mr Montague will also need to explain his mechanism for insulating the proposed force from partisan use and from those people who may see in it official cover for the exercise of power and abuse of others.

In other words, the security minister has to move from declarations - or invoking Trumpion notions of being, because he says so - deserving of the public's trust to convince people with rational arguments.

Expanding CCTV coverage across the island and allowing private owners of security systems to log into a central police apparatus is a good idea that should enhance coverage of public spaces. Indeed, Mr Montague may wish to broaden the discussion to possibly mandate that businesses of a size install CCTV and, perhaps, apartment complexes and gated communities.