Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | Beyond George Quallo’s greyness

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 5:00 AM

George Quallo is hardly a personality you'd remember from an uncrowded room, but, perhaps, for the fact of his shaven head. Neither is his bearing commanding nor his speech authoritative. He doesn't compensate with charisma.

But people who know Mr Quallo insist upon his innate decency, good sense and deeply held Christian principles. They say, too, that he is competent. It is not surprising that after 40 years as a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), there is no whiff of scandal or controversy surrounding George Quallo. The public knows little about his philosophy of policing, or if he thinks deeply about such things.

Mr Quallo, however, can't any longer just blend in, a sort of grey man in the background who goes about his job without too much notice. He has assumed among the toughest jobs in Jamaica, having been sworn in as the island's police chief.

Apart from whatever mandate he has been given, or target he has set himself, Mr Quallo begins his assignment at a psychological disadvantage. First, he knows that he wasn't the first choice for the job. The Police Service Commission (PSC) would have preferred to recruit a Jamaican from abroad.

 

UNEXPECTED CHOICE

 

Second, among the domestically based applicants, no one expected Mr Quallo to be chosen. The presumed smart money was on Novelette Grant becoming Jamaica's first female commissioner of police. Professionally qualified, she had, too, the support of the rank and file.

Mr Quallo now has to translate his ascendancy to success. That depends on what he sees as his priority, the yardstick with which he measures success, and his ability to convince the society to embrace his vision.

Our fear, though, is that Mr Quallo will become overwhelmed by Jamaica's serious problem of crime: more than 1,300 murders a year; a 20 per cent rise in killings in 2016; a homicide rate upwards of 50 per 100,000, a ratio that places Jamaica among the top-three most murderous countries. He might be consumed in attempting to out fires, despite his suggestions to the contrary.

Short-term strategies and tactics are, of course, important to staunch the mayhem. But the JCF is replete with examples of unsustained initiatives against crime, such as the more than one-third decline in homicides between 2010 and 2014. Sustainability depends not only on policing tactics; it demands, in Jamaica's circumstance, a broad range of social, political and economic interventions that are outside Mr Quallo's gift.

There are things, however, that are within Mr Quallo's control, which, if he has the will and capacity to accomplish them, could mark him as a transformative leader whose rise to the top of the JCF would be resistant to claims of the outcome of a plodding inoffensiveness.

A not so insignificant part of the failure to control this crisis of crime is the distrust many Jamaicans have for the JCF.

They perceive it as an inefficient, ineffective, corrupt institution immune to change, and operating with the ethos of a brotherhood. Mr Quallo has declared fighting corruption to be among his priorities. In the past, this has largely meant nabbing the petty offenders of the force, rather than instituting a deep and sustained overhaul of the organisation. Those who tried have been broken by the co-option into, or resistance of, the brotherhood.

Mr Quallo has three years to be different. Or, at least, to try to be.