Mon | Jul 24, 2017

Keith Gardner | The next commissioner of police

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Keith Gardner
Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant.
Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey, one of the prospects for the commisioner of police post.
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The appointment of a commissioner of police might seemingly be a simple process. It, however, has dire consequences not only for the direction of the force, but for the security of the nation. After all, the commissioner has certain responsibilities, which include being accountable to the minister who is responsible for policy directives. He or she is largely responsible for the promotion of persons without consultation up to the rank of sergeant. Thereafter, they make recommendations to the Police Service Commission (PSC) for the appointment of members from the ranks of inspector of police to deputy commissioner of police.

Invariably, once these recom-mendations are made and subject to affirmation by the PSC, the members are promoted. The commissioner is also responsible for the placement of officers to commands, both in geographical divisions such as the various parishes across the island, non-geographical divisions, area and portfolio commands.

Bad recommendations for promotions, and bad decisions in the appointment of com-manding officers can lead to poor relations between the police and the members of particular communities and lead to an escalation in crime.

 

personal feelings

 

As assistant commissioner of police in charge of operations for the island, I was summoned by Commissioner Francis Forbes in the presence of the deputy commissioner of police in charge of the operational portfolio and questioned about the deployment of certain officers across the island. When I questioned one particular command, the commissioner reached in his top right-hand desk drawer and pulled out a list of superintendents and senior superintendents of police and asked of me to "peruse this list and tell me who you would send to that particular division".

I mentioned about three names who, in my estimation, would do a good job at that division. The commissioner, from his position of advantage, could explain to me why none of those officers would be suitable for that division - a decision which I later discovered to be most accurate.

A commissioner of police, as we have seen in the past, can display nepotism, clientelism, patronage or victimisation based on personal feelings. It is, therefore, imperative that whoever is appointed commissioner of police be seen to be void of traits that could lead the force down a path which does not address the critical issues of crime reduction, promotion of community-based policing, community safety, reduction in the fear of crime, and promotion of productivity.

This is why, in appointing a commissioner of police, the PSC must not only direct its mind to the academic accomplishment of any particular individual but ensure that person's has integrity, strength of character, knowledge and experience of the job, ability to lead, ability to obtain and maintain the confidence of national, regional and international partners, and the commitment to deal aggressively with police corruption at every level while commanding the support and respect of the majority of law enforcers.

 

Important skills

 

This commissioner must be able to plan, organise staff, control and direct his or her subordinates, beginning with the commissioning ranks.

Police indiscipline is rife, and having held the position of assistant commissioner in charge of discipline within the force, I became aware of the scope of the problem based on the number of files coming from the director of public prosecutions.

There were other files detailing a litany of offences, for which dismissal on proof of guilt was the penalty. It is imperative that the new commissioner not only assert a strong position on ridding the force of corruption but actively engage in the rebuilding of public trust both at the community level and at the national level.

An acting position at any level of the force is no field of dreams; it is, rather, a nightmare. Every day becomes a year as the 'actor' awakens, hoping that his or her position will be confirmed. During that period, the individual tries to win the support of those who are responsible for confirming the appointment. This is never an easy task, as it implies being all things to all men.

Many have acted for various durations. Deputy Commissioner Noel Eldridge acted for several months before Colonel Trevor McMillan was appointed commissioner. So did Deputy Commissioner Jevene Bent before the appointment of Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin.

At this level, psychometric testing, along with polygraphs, should be an imperative. If the candidates fail these tests, they should be excluded at all cost, as these are the very grounds on which they themselves will be purporting to exclude other junior candidates.

 

The dark horse

 

As in the past, the kingmakers of Jamaica and the other turfites have been predicting the new appointee. Absent from these predictions is the dark horse, which is spoken about only in whispers. To many, the appointment is hardly a done deal and being acquainted with many of the members of the PSC, I am not of the opinion that they would have leaked their decision to any member of the public.

But the decision of the Service Commission is but one hurdle. Were I the minister of national security or the prime minister, I would be emboldened by the appointment of an individual who could readily understand the dichotomy between policy and operations in relation to national security and who would operationalise those policies efficiently, effectively and without incurring unnecessary cost.

This does not entail necessarily political partisanship. It is a well-known secret that every government would prefer to have a police commissioner and chief of defence staff with whom they are comfortable. As I have said in the past, the appointment of a commissioner of police, very much like the appointment of the chief justice, is political. This does not necessarily mean that the individual once appointed must feel beholden to the prime minister or act politically.

- Keith Gardner is an attorney-at-law and a member of the Bar Association of Jamaica. He served the JCF for more than four decades retiring at the rank of assistant commissioner of police. He holds a master's degree in public law and is currently pursuing a MPhil/PhD in law at the University of the West Indies. He is currently director of security for the UWI, Mona Campus. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.