Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Mr Quallo gets our vote

Published:Thursday | June 15, 2017 | 6:00 AM

Robert Montague, the national security minister, oughtn't to be offended that we have greater faith in Police Commissioner George Quallo's prescription against Jamaica's latest spurt of homicides than of the minister's expectations from a bevy of proposed new legislation, especially the so-called Special Measures Act. Rather than grabbing for shiny new objects, Mr Quallo has responded to the crisis of more than 50 killings in a week and 630 murders an increase of 17 per cent in just over five months of the year, with an ordinary reasonableness and a sense of honesty characteristic of his personality.

The police, he told journalists in Tuesday, won't necessarily be employing new or unique strategies and tactics. It has all been done before.

"What is different about this is how it is to be applied and the energies that we bring to it," he said. The hallmarks: discipline, professionalism and commitment.

George Quallo's selection in April as the new police chief was a surprise. Maybe he will spring another with a quiet competence and a capacity for concentrated effort that are too often missing from security initiatives.

The default among policymakers and law enforcement officials when faced with Jamaica's periodic steep spiral in crime, it often appears, is to get into a frenzy about new laws that prove of little efficacy, until the society adjusts, relatively quickly, to the higher threshold of insecurity. Little, if anything, rarely gets fixed.

In the 1970s, for instance, the response to a sharp upward spiral in murders was the Suppression of Crime Act, that enhanced the police's powers of search and arrest. For two decades, until its repeal, that law facilitated abuse of citizens' rights by the constabulary and undermined the investigative skills of a generation of police officers.

While few may have been as egregious, there have been, since then, many proposals for laws that would have impaired citizens' rights as well as others posited as the magic bullet to stanch a bloodletting that produces well over 1,000 murders annually and a homicide rate of over 50 per 100,000.

SPECIAL MEASURES ACT

The most recent of the latter category is Special Measures Act for which Mr Montague's "quick passage ... to enable the police to clear, hold and build specific communities that are of interest".

As we pointed out in March, this law, if and when passed, will give the government and law enforcement no authority that they do not now enjoy, except perhaps, the security force to instate curfews, without the permission of the minister, is the areas cited for "special measures". Search and detention of persons suspected of being in the process of committing, or of having committed a crime, is a norm in Jamaica.

In many respects, the proposed law mirrors the idea of Rio's Police Pacification Units, which, having driven out crime bosses, enter favelas and spearhead development with the support of government agencies. That, essentially, was what was expected to happen in Tivoli Gardens after to 2010 operation to route strongman and gang leader, Christopher Coke. That bill also make it a requirement to establish social intervention committees to determine what an intervened community requires for its regeneration. No law is needed for this.

Consequent to this Act will be amendments to the Anti-Gang legislation which will allow the police to apply to the courts and designate criminal organisations, seek Control Orders for, members of these organisations, and make it an offence to be a member.