Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Editorial | Greater accountability rather than new policy

Published:Tuesday | June 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We are yet to see what Terrence Williams and the law-enforcement brass from Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, who met in Kingston last week, have crafted as the model use-of-force policy for the region's constabularies and how much, if at all, it differs from those that now exist. Its comparison with the one for the Jamaica Constabulary Force should be particularly interesting.

There are two reasons why the outcome of the dialogue carries such significance for this newspaper.

First, we agree with Susan Goffe of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), the rights group, that Jamaica's police force already has a quite decent use-of-force policy. Second, and if the first observation is correct, there is the question of whether Mr Williams and his agency have become, or are becoming, a bit weary and worn down, and, are therefore, seeking new criteria by which to assess the behaviour of Jamaica's police.

We, of course, would never assume the latter conclusion to be true.

Mr Williams is head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that investigates complaints of excesses against Jamaica's security forces, which largely means their exercise of the use-of-force policy, especially when that force is deadly. In the eight years of INDECOM's existence, that relationship has, to say the least, been uneasy.

Often accused of extrajudicial killings, members of the constabulary, especially, have bristled at INDECOM's complaints of police personnel's too-frequent abuse of the force's rules and regulations and insistence of accountability. But, measured by declines in police homicides, there is little doubt that INDECOM has been effective.

Despite a nine per cent increase in such killings in 2016, to 92, homicides by the police have more than halved over the past five years. More police personnel, too, have been criminally charged for infractions, which, in turn, seems to be leading to better behaviour.

These data, however, do not suggest that there isn't still a problem. The implication of the trend, it appears to us, is that the weakness isn't so much with the use-of-force policy, but with attitudes and accountability. Which is why we agree with Ms Goffe and the JFJ's long-held view of the potential efficacy of the constabulary's use-of-force policy.

 

LEGAL, MORAL AUTHORITY

 

Like similar policies in liberal democracies, Jamaica's allows the police the use of reasonable force for the prevention of a crime if they believe their own lives, or the lives of others, are at risk. So, in the event of discharging his firearm, a policeman should, in his own mind, have legal and moral certainty about his act. And he should be expected to be held legally accountable for his action, in the event there is an assumption that the force exercised was disproportionate to the risk.

Last week in London, after three terrorists mowed down pedestrians with a van and stabbed others with knives, they were shot dead by armed officers. Soon thereafter, the authorities were able to report that the police fired in excess of 50 rounds. This kind of accountability is not often the case in Jamaica - and not because of an absence of policy.

As Ms Goffe observed: "This is why there is the absolute need for independent investigation ... so that each incident is investigated on its own merit and circumstances to see whether the principles of the use-of-force policy have been adhered to."

Put another way, it is enforcement and accountability, rather than a new policy, that are of greater urgency.