Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | Quallo casualty of rumour, silence

Published:Monday | April 24, 2017 | 4:00 AM

George Quallo wasn't the name on everyone's lips to become commissioner of police. Indeed, it might not have been on any. But that, of itself, is not sufficient to spin a web.

Some public commentators and gender specialists have sought to ascribe patriarchy as the fundamental basis for the preference of Mr Quallo to Novelette Grant, a deputy commissioner of police who was chosen to act in the top job following Dr Carl Williams' shock exit on January 6. Ms Grant, who openly campaigned for the post, has been made a bridesmaid.

However, it is mischievous and irresponsible, in the absence of proof, to peddle as incontrovertible truth that Ms Grant did not get the job solely because she is a woman. And we are not being naÔve. The male-dominated police force is structurally and culturally configured to favour men in its recruitment campaign.

Jamaica's security crisis, with high levels of aggression towards the constabulary and frequent firefights with armed criminals, has calcified the gender disparity in the force. So, frankly, police work has stereotypically been viewed as a man's job.

This inequity flows through to the senior ranks, where there are few women who have been promoted to, say, deputy or assistant commissioner of police.

 

SYSTEMIC BIAS

 

Dr Christopher Charles, senior lecturer in political psychology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, has unfortunately resorted to anecdote, rather than scholarship, in coming to the conclusion that in the instant case of Novelette Grant, she was passed over because of systemic bias. In doing so, he provides fodder that the Police Service Commission (PSC) is corrupt.

Dr Charles' questioning of Mr Quallo's suitability for the job is apparently based on his idea that there wasn't a lot of buzz surrounding him in the lead-up to the PSC's decision. That's a non-starter. For we know that there are various special interests and lobbyists close to the police force who are keen to position their favoured man, or woman, as top cop. Dr Charles and his sociology colleagues at the UWI would better contribute to the discussion by conducting a study into gender prejudice in the police force and its manifestations in sexual harassment and hindrances to career advancement.

But there is some good that can come from the tattle. The PSC, now chaired by Gordon Shirley and which constitutes only men, could quash the intrigue that has followed the selection of the commissioner of police by being more transparent. In fact, it should become standard practice.

We have no evidence to suggest that the PSC did not choose the best person as commissioner of police. However, public confidence in the selection process is crucial. This is important on two fronts.

First, there is a low level of trust in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, a view that is supported by both locally and externally sponsored surveys. Despite a campaign for the removal of personnel, whether by prosecution or administrative dismissal, the overwhelming public perception of the police force is that it is still deeply corrupt. Strong moral leadership is required to rid the force of this plague. Gaining public buy-in is an important first step in any assault on police corruption, as any effort to co-opt Jamaicans in coming forward to testify against dirty cops must be supported by a belief that the commissioner is not a half-hearted partner.

 

BOOST PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

 

Second, full disclosure from the PSC on the merits and process of selection would help boost public confidence in the impartiality of the commission. Because the process is shrouded in mystery, there is a lingering perception in some quarters that the decision is victim to political interference. The Jamaican public needs to know that the security forces are not manipulated by a governing party and that citizens are not victimised according to their political persuasion.

A post-selection press briefing need not wade into classified or highly sensitive information that would jeopardise national security or impinge on personal privacy for the satisfaction of voyeurs.

But we believe that there should be a declaration on the gross and shortlisted number of applicants; the thinking that informed the analysis; details on the vetting of moral rectitude; and what internal or other sanctions exist on their records. Also of public interest would be the health status of the commissioner, and whether his or her business interests, or those of the spouse, might present any conflicts of interest.

In refusing to acknowledge requests for disclosure, Mr Shirley's PSC appears aloof, out of touch, and arrogant. And the casualties of its indifference have been Commissioner Quallo and public confidence.