Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Editorial | A route to police oversight

Published:Monday | August 15, 2016 | 8:00 AM

There has been a great deal of hand-wringing about the proposed merger of the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA), which most people appear to believe is a good thing, but seem not to know how to go about it. It doesn't seem all that hard to us, especially if you know what you want to accomplish and why.

As we understand it, the desire of most people, including this newspaper, is to ensure a greater level of efficiency and accountability from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), but without leaving the police force open to the partisan political manipulation to which it used to be legally susceptible, and often subjected, in the past. Which is why the law was changed in the 1990s - to leave policing policy in the hands of the minister but remove his capacity to meddle in operational matters. Operations, now, are the sole purview of the police chief and his senior managers,

In the more than two decades since those changes, not too much has happened regarding the structure and operation of the constabulary that could be regarded as transformational. The JCF is still largely a paramilitary formation, wracked, in most people's view, by corruption, and inefficient in its response to, and management of, crime.

That, in large part, is because the JCF is not seriously accountable to anyone. Its members know how to play off the incumbent minister, seeking to cover political flanks, to their advantage. Moreover, police chiefs, recruited from within, are likely to be too steeped in the institutional culture, and the constraints therefrom, to effect radical reform.

Add to this the fact that the police chief is not seriously accountable to anyone for the efficient management of the force, except at the time of the renewal of his contract or in the event that some egregious behaviour on his part triggers the difficult process by which a senior officer can be removed from office by the PSC.

 

NO OPERATIONAL POWERS

 

Herein lies the matter. The PSC is the creature of the Constitution, with the limited role of approving the appointment or removal of police officers and the disciplining of those above the rank of inspector. It has no operational oversight powers or responsibility.

An attempt at some level of oversight came with the establishment of the PCOA, which, while it has substantial authority to demand information and call on the constabulary's top officers to attend upon it, is largely a review body - an inspectorate that makes observations and recommendations rather than having the power to insist on action. Although it is not unreasonable to argue that the PCOA might have achieved more if it were more transparent with its actions, it should be more forthright with the public.

Achieving an effective oversight mechanism, however, need not happen by merging the PSC and the PCOA, although, in the short term, the law establishing the latter ought to be amended to give it that specific responsibility.

A long-term, and perhaps more efficacious, solution is amending those sections of the Constitution - 129 to 131 - dealing with the PSC that are not deeply entrenched. Such amendments would likely find support across the aisle.