Editorial | Police holding society to ransom
Many people will, not unreasonably, conclude that Jamaica's police force, playing on people's real fear of crime, is attempting to hold the country to ransom to resist accountability. That must not be tolerated.
That latest evidence of this are the reports in this newspaper this week of senior police officers reprising long-standing complaints against the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) and how the behaviour of that agency supposedly deters police officers from doing their jobs, including engaging criminals.
IDECOM, established six years ago, is the agency that investigates complaints of misbehaviour against the security forces, including, as a matter of course, all cases of fatal shootings. It was formed because the public had lost confidence in the ability of the police, who previously killed nearly 300 people annually, to investigate themselves. And another shot by a quasi-independent body did not fare particularly better.
It is unclear that this outcome can be attributed entirely to INDECOM, but it is a fact that since its launch, police homicides has halved. That, in most societies, would be deemed a good thing. In Jamaica, though, cops complain of INDECOM's chilling effect. The argument is that police officers fear being interrogated and charged if they engage gunmen. So they drop their hands.
"I work on a team where people are straight front-line (operational officers)," one police officer said. "Now, you can see the apprehension and tentativeness in officers to carry out certain duties."
We find the implications of that statement astounding, unless the "certain duties" to which this senior officer referred, are outside the law, or contrary to the operating procedures of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Indeed, no police need operate with fear if they behave in accordance with the policies of the JCF, which, on paper, are quite good.
Jamaica, we appreciate, has high levels of crime. More than 1,000 people are murdered each year. Its murder rate, heading towards 50 per 100,000, is among the world's worst. The fear of crime runs deep. In the circumstance, the style of the para-military type police force, which developed a reputation for inefficiency and corruption, was to fight fire-with-fire. It hasn't helped that the country has not put sufficient resources into citizens' safety and security and that law enforcement efforts are often undermined by a slow justice system.
But what it clear, is that this approach to crime-fighting hasn't worked. Until a decline - since reversed - in the first three years of the second decade of the 2000s, homicides, for nearly three decades, was on a sharp upward spiral in Jamaica. There is consensus that the constabulary, as currently structured - no matter whatever else is done to deal with the issue - is incapable of beating the problem. The force, as Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, the former army chief who had a stint as police commissioner, recently puts it, is in need of transformation, not reform.
Its members, including senior officers, however, continue to resist. Professor Anthony Clayton, who has studied the force and has advised on these efforts, has called for "strong leadership inside the JCF" to overcome this culture of resistance. That, however, can't be left only the current police, Carl Williams. It needs, too, as Prof. Clayton said, "consistent pressure from outside".