Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Editorial | Does Mr Quallo have it in him?

Published:Tuesday | August 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

George Quallo is, presumably, a competent police officer. He has, thus far, fallen short as a leader. And he bombed at reprising Houdini and at being a chameleon and a shape-shifting snake-oil salesman.

Where does that leave Mr Quallo? That same place that we identified on Friday: with diminished public trust in him and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), which he leads.

The police commissioner's problems were exacerbated by the mess he created with his initial response to that intellectually flaccid, or, perhaps, deliberately disingenuous, report by a police-appointed review committee seeking to impeach the findings of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

At best, Mr Quallo now appears malleable; child's play dough in the hands of the national security minister, Robert Montague, at whose displeasure he is ready to alter his stance. The danger is this: We can't now be sure that there can any longer be that clear line of demarcation between the minister's responsibility for policy and the commissioner's own for operations.

This now leaves Mr Quallo in the position of having to consider his future as the police chief, having to determine whether he can find a way to exculpate himself from folly and build public trust in his leadership of the JCF. If he decides that he has it in him to accomplish the latter, Mr Quallo must know that it can't be achieved with the unctuous offering that backfired so badly at the weekend.

He has to recognise that he is no longer a 'squaddie' policeman, but the leader of a police force, deemed to be inefficient and corrupt, with low levels of trust and resistant to reform. He must want to be the epitome of excellence. That will demand, first, acknowledging how badly he erred, followed by hard truth-telling, especially to the members of the organisation that he leads.

Mr Quallo is four months into the job. He inherited his predecessor's committee on, we presumed, how to implement the recommendations of the West Kingston Commission, whichprobed the 2010 operation to serve an arrest warrant on the politically aligned crime boss, Christopher Coke. Coke's private militia resisted, posed a serious threat, and had to be put down, which the Simmons committee recognised.

But the commission also determined that it was likely that many - they identified 20 - of the at least 69 people who died in the operation were likely victims of extrajudicial killing by members of the security force, mostly drawn from the police's Mobile Reserve. Five police officers were also cited for operational incompetence and dereliction and recommended for removal from any operational leadership in the force.

 

Reinterpreting facts

 

What the review committee did was to supposedly evaluate the evidence given before the commissioners (two highly respected jurists and a renowned academic) who had the benefit of observing the demeanour of the witnesses and reinterpreting the facts. The upshot: the absolution of the cited officers. In the face of public outcry, Mr Quallo's response was to "stand by" this document of purgation.

Last Friday, Mr Quallo parsed his "stand by" to mean satisfaction with "the process of review", especially that the police's panel was of "experienced citizens". Perhaps they were. But they started the review, it appears, on an erroneous premise.

According to Mr Quallo, the Simmons commission's recommendation, and, by extension, the mandate of the constabulary's review, was to the "best of my knowledge" to establish "whether the named officers were derelict in their duties or committed any misconduct of their duties". Either Mr Quallo didn't read the report or is disingenuous. For the commission, that was settled fact. An administrative review was to have been a signal of "internal accountability ... ; such matters will be treated seriously".

With the Government having sided with the public and sent Mr Montague to inform Mr Quallo thus, the police chief says that he recognises the concerns and declared that "the JCF stands ready to accept full responsibility for its actions".

We are no clearer on where, or for what, Mr Quallo stands.