Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial | INDECOM good for JCF

Published:Friday | November 4, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Like many people in the society, Mikael Phillips, the member of parliament for Manchester North Western, appears more concerned with form than substance with how things look, rather than what they actually are. He complains, therefore, that it "doesn't look good" that the constabulary and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that probes allegations of extrajudicial conduct by the police, are at odds, ostensibly, over how the latter goes about its job.

So, Mr Phillips wants an external mediator to help the parties work through their supposed differences, at the end of which, presumably, there will be no more public washing of their dirty linen. And after their institutional cry-in, perhaps, INDECOM will be far less robust, or, as some of critics claim, abrasive in fulfilling its mandate.

In its six years of existence, INDECOM has not been popular with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and some sections of public opinion. It has, the complaint goes, cramped the style and effectiveness of so-called front-line crime fighters who confront Jamaica's dangerous criminals. These operatives fear being charged for various offences, causing them, even if vindicated, to incur substantial legal expense.

 

LOST CONFIDENCE IN POLICE

 

But it is worth recalling why INDECOM was established and what has been the result: the public lost confidence in the police to investigate themselves. Before INDECOM, police homicides were well over 200 annually and there were persistent claims that most of these were extrajudicial. Last year, the police killed fewer than 100 citizens. The figure is still high by global standards, but heading in a direction that is closer to normal.

We believe there is value in INDECOM's oversight, which, judging by the campaign against the agency, is not a view shared, it would seem, by a significant minority, including some senior officers of the constabulary. A fortnight ago, this newspaper quoted a senior cop as saying that police officers, when travelling to crimes involving gunmen, often take the long route so as to avoid engaging the criminals to dodge possible charges by the oversight agency.

 

TENSION BETWEEN AGENCIES

 

These claims were followed by last week's evidence before Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) by two of the constabulary's brass that echoed the concerns of members about legal bills and blaming the attitude of INDECOM's boss, Terrence Williams, for the tension between the two agencies and the failure to establish an overarching protocol for cooperation.

Such a protocol would be useful. But in the final analysis, Terrence Williams' personality, or abrasiveness, should matter naught to police officers who go about their jobs professionally, in accordance with the law and the constabulary's declared policies. A dropping of hands, as some senior officers suggest is the case, is tantamount to an attempt, by those who do it, to hold the public at ransom.

Jamaica's police do a difficult, and often dangerous, job. But an appreciation of this fact is not an argument for arbitrariness, impunity or an absence of accountability.

Police officers no doubt have concerns about the legal costs when they come in conflict with the oversight agency, but that is an argument deserving of attention by their employers and professional organisation, rather than one for either tentativeness or retreat by INDECOM. Indeed, there are signs that robust oversight is helping to make the JCF a better police force.