Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Editorial | Whoever succeeds Commissioner Williams

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Being Jamaica's police chief is a hard and wearying job.

The commissioner contends not only with a country with one of the world's most intractable crime problems, including a homicide rate of 45 per 100,000, but presides over a constabulary that is widely held to be corrupt and notoriously resistant to reform. At the same time, Jamaican governments have underinvested in citizen safety and security and justice.

It is hardly surprising that in merely over a decade, since 2005, Jamaica will have gone through five police chiefs, once the current commissioner, Carl Williams, leaves on January 6. The nine years served by the first of them, Francis Forbes, will be nearly as many as the other four, combined.

Dr Williams' departure, surprising as it is, provides us with an opportunity to reimagine the police force, including what should be looked for in the new leader and how this thinking should inform the proposed new legislation, promised by the Holness administration for the third quarter of 2017, to govern the constabulary.

 

NOT A WHIFF OF CORRUPTION

 

First, there is something of Dr Williams' character that is acknowledged and widely admired, including by Jamaica's international partners. He is personally honest - one of the officers who came up through the ranks of the constabulary around whom there is not a whiff of corruption.

Indeed, not only did he lead with distinction in the police's counternarcotics division, an area highly susceptible to be corrupted by narco-traffickers, but was hailed for his efforts, working with foreign agencies, in removing Jamaica as a leading trans-shipment port for drugs heading from South America to Europe.

Commissioner Williams came to the top job in 2014 with Jamaica still basking in the gains from the 2010 security operation in west Kingston to rout the militia of confessed gangster and politically aligned strongman Christopher Coke. Over a three-year period, homicides declined by a third to just under 1,000.

But in 2014, murders increased by 20 per cent, to around 1,200 - far off the target of 320 a year by 2017, which the then security minister, Peter Bunting, had set two years earlier. Murders will be up another five per cent this year. Increasingly, these killings are taking place in Jamaica's western parishes, the bases for gangs that swindle mostly elderly Americans of hundreds of millions of dollars with claims they have won sweepstakes or lotteries, for which they had to pay fees and taxes in order to collect their winnings.

 

DOMESTIC DISPUTES

 

Domestic disputes, too, contribute to the rise in homicide numbers. In most societies, and Jamaica is no exception, murders, especially when they are high and rising, weigh heavily on people's perception of crime, even if, as the Jamaican constabulary says is the case, non-violent crime is actually declining.

While he made incremental institutional gains, Dr Williams, unfortunately, was unable to convince Jamaicans that he had a bankable plan to arrest the homicide problem. Nor was he able to articulate a programme for reform that excites Jamaicans in its promise of an uncorrupt and efficient police force, as well as resolves the tensions between those in the society who argue that crime is best solved by modern investigative techniques and those who insist that hardened criminals can only be defeated by tough, street-fighting methods.

This is something to be borne in mind by whoever succeeds Dr Williams.