Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Editorial | What of the JCF’s promised Tivoli review?

Published:Monday | July 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It is now a year since the constabulary force pledged, in accordance with the recommendation of the Simmons Enquiry, to engage in an internal review of the conduct of its members who were part of the 2010 operation in west Kingston to arrest the political crime boss, Christopher Coke, and put down a threat to the Jamaican State.

Coke's private militia had made the area generally, but particularly the community of Tivoli Garden, a veritable redoubt that required much hard fighting, primarily by Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers, to overcome. At least 69 "civilians", some of them believed to be combatants, died in the operation.

But there is a widely held perception, with which the commission agreed, that there were extrajudicial killings by the security forces. The commissioners identified 20 instances of possible murder, which it placed primarily on unidentified members of the Mobile Reserve, the constabulary's rapid-response unit. Further, they accused several officers of "dereliction of duty" or of being "administratively or operationally incompetent", and named five of them who should "never again be allowed to lead or otherwise participate in internal security operations".

 

The fairness test

 

Even at the time of the report, six years after the operation, and with some of the policemen it recommended for proscription having been promoted, the enquirers concluded that it still wasn't "too late for the security forces to further examine these matters administratively as issues of accountability and thereby signal to their members that such matters will be treated seriously".

To their credit, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) agreed. Indeed, the force received commendations for how they intended to proceed: with a panel that, on the face of it, would pass the test of fairness and whose findings could therefore win the respect of the public.

The panel would comprise:

- a deputy commissioner of police;

- the head of the inspectorate of the constabulary;

- a member of the Police Service Commission (PSC);

- one member of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA);

- an independent member selected by the PSC and the PCOA.

With regard to accusations and recommendations made against police offers concerning how they performed their duties during the operation, the High Command would make decisions based on the findings of the review board.

In the near 13 months since former Commissioner Karl Williams announced the plan, not only has he resigned, but there has been no indication of whether the review board was indeed appointed and if they had completed their work and submitted a report. If they have, it has not been made public - an absence of transparency that doesn't bode well for a constabulary that is in a struggle for the trust of citizens.

There is another reason why this matter is important at this time. Parliament recently passed the zones of special operations law, which, as part of the response to the country's crime wave, will allow the security forces to create, in designated communities, an environment psychologically similar to a state of emergency, without all the powers thereof. The Zones of Special Operations Act, on the face of it, has provisions to hold members of the security forces accountable. But so, too, did the laws under which the west Kingston operation took place, as well as related common law provisions.