Carl Williams | Polygraphs and the police
On Tuesday, August 30, The Gleaner published a column headlined 'Clean up the force, then the streets', written by Patria-Kaye Aarons. The column addressed recent comments made by Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams regarding the non-admittance of 88 potential recruits to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), based on the questionable results of their polygraph tests.
Several of her declarations are misinformed, and the JCF is moved to dislodge these misconceived perceptions and empower readers with accurate information.
"A constabulary force of sorts was founded in Jamaica in 1716. It was reshaped to its current dispensation in 1835, and since then, this is the first time scientific means were used to assess the character and trustworthiness of the aspirants."
The specious declarations made by Ms Aarons demonstrate her grave misunderstanding of the origins and operations of the JCF.
As a start, the JCF hastens to correct her derisive and imprecise account about the establishment of the organisation. The introduction of a structured agency to maintain law and order in Jamaica was first made by the English in 1655. As the needs of the society grew, so did this system, with significant timelines such as the use of law enforcement expanding in 1716, and the first attempt to establish a permanent police force beginning in 1832. This force continued in service until 1865 when the Morant Bay Rebellion highlighted the vulnerability of peace and law in Jamaica, leading to the establishment of the JCF in 1867, with several amendments since then.
The JCF has one of the most thorough and robust recruiting and vetting systems in Jamaica which is comparable to any other police organisation in First-World countries.
In rejection of Ms Aaron's claims that "this is the first time scientific means were used to assess the character and trustworthiness of the aspirants", the JCF calls her attention to the fact that polygraph testing was established as a standard vetting procedure within the force more than a decade ago, when persons assigned to certain specialist formations were required to successfully undergo polygraph examinations.
The programme has since evolved to now feature a state-of-the-art polygraph centre that can facilitate multiple polygraph sessions simultaneously, and has the capacity to deliver polygraph training to both local and overseas law-enforcement officials. JCF members are internationally trained and accredited as polygraph examiners by the American Polygraph Association, with reassessment and recertification done annually. These experts, in turn, have delivered training to law-enforcement organisations within the region, to include Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia and the US Virgin Islands.
Fast-tracking to 2016 - in an address to the nation on January 15, I announced that the JCF's recruitment process was revamped to include stricter screening measures for all applicants. I noted, in particular, that there will now be 100 per cent polygraphing of all prospective recruits in efforts to promote a culture of ethics and integrity within the JCF. In cementing that commitment, assistance was sought from the United States government to support local polygraph examiners to test every single potential recruit who applied to become a member of the JCF.
Disclosures and admissions from polygraph tests are further analysed and go through a verification process before the information is utilised in decision making. As such, polygraph tests are supported by other vetting tools, including fingerprinting, intelligence vetting, antecedent investigation, psychometric evaluation and medical examinations - a fact that refutes her suggestion that "the results of this polygraph test are the only data we have to go by".
"... It's worth the effort and the expense to test every single member of the force. Everyone. Root out the rotten apples now."
Ms Aarons must be educated on the fact that serving members of the force are subjected to periodic vetting. For instance, it is used as part of the integrity screening for persons being considered for promotion, especially to senior ranks in the organisation. Also, there are several formations where 100 per cent of the staff have successfully undergone polygraph examinations.
For newly installed members, a probationary period, lasting for up to two years after graduation from the National Police College of Jamaica (NPCJ), is done under strict supervision and evaluations and members are introduced to regulations, standard operating procedures, and institutionalised policies addressing ethics and integrity, human rights, police use of force, firearms and diversity.
To say that does not mean the JCF is ignorant to the unfortunate fact that there are dishonest members whose actions have severely eroded the public's trust in the organisation. Neither does the organisation take lightly allegations of corruption against any serving police officer.
There is a robust push to identify and prosecute crooked members, and, in cases where members resort to criminality and unethical behaviour, an effective internal system is designed to address through discipline, dismissal, refusal for re-enlistment and criminal charges. In fact, up to August, the force has exacted disciplinary actions against more than 200 police officers who exhibited behaviour that work against the organisation's protocols and standards.
As to "rooting out the bad apples" through polygraph testing, Ms Aarons is perhaps misguided on Jamaican laws, as polygraph, in and of itself, cannot be used to dismiss any worker in any organisation in Jamaica, and is not accepted in court.
Attendant to that, a comprehensive policy to guide the use of lie detector/polygraph technology is currently being crafted by the JCF's Legal Affairs Division for submission to the minister of national security. Submissions are also being considered to recommend legislative changes to give full and legal effect to the use of polygraph screening in all recruitment and sensitive postings and in prescribed circumstances, for example, internal investigations of members' misconduct or breaches of administrative rules.
The JCF remains steadfast in its commitment to take all the necessary steps to ensure that only the best are recruited. And, contrary to the suggestions made in Ms Aarons' column - and wider societal notions - the JCF continues to be an employer of choice for a great number of professional, integrity-driven and high-qualified recruits who are poised to develop and fully utilise breakthroughs in modern policing.
"No amount of body cameras can fix Jamaica's crime problem."
On this one point, the JCF and Ms Aarons are on the same footing. Indeed, body-worn cameras (BWCs) are not a panacea to the crime situation in Jamaica. At the same time, the JCF cautions all stakeholders to not be quick to drown the introduction of this technology - currently in a controlled implementation phase - in cynicism and devalue its potential. It provides a remarkable stimulus for police accountability and transparency; will drive conformity by suspects; help increase the JCF's skills and resources in crime prevention, investigations, administration and operations; and empower and motivate police officers to continue their great work.
The JCF will continue to implement further operational adjustments to provide the highest levels of security for all Jamaicans. In the meantime, the organisation invites all Jamaicans to work with it in maintaining law and order, to promote reforms across all divides, and to engage in constructive discourse that will help to uplift the thousands of committed men and women of the JCF who daily 'serve, protect and reassure' for safer communities and a safer Jamaica.
- Dr Carl Williams is the commissioner of police.
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