Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Editorial | Urgent reforms for police force

Published:Wednesday | December 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Among the Holness administration's commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is to pass a Police Service Act to replace the law under which the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) now operates.

The letter of intent containing that undertaking doesn't set out a timetable for the tabling of the bill and its debate by Parliament, but does say that a review of existing legislation, a precursor to this move, should have been done by October. In that sense, the reform of the police force isn't, it seems, a formal structural benchmark of the standby arrangement.

It is, nonetheless, an acknowledgement by both the Fund and the Government of the impact of crime on Jamaica's economy and the inadequacy of the JCF, as currently structured, to deal with the crisis. Or, more to the point, it represents a prodding by the IMF to do something about the police force.

This newspaper, and the vast majority of Jamaicans, we expect, agrees.

Should anyone need reminding, more than 1,500 people have already been murdered in Jamaica during 2017, and homicides this year will be at the highest level since the 1,680 of 2009, before the Tivoli Gardens security operation precipitated, over the next five years, a 35 per cent reduction in killings. But even at that, around 10,000 Jamaicans will have been murder victims in the seven years since 2010. Jamaica's homicide rate in 2017 will be around 59 per 100,000 population, one of the worst in the world.

Not much more than half of these murders will be 'cleared up', which doesn't necessarily mean that someone is arrested, charged, brought to court and convicted. More likely, it means that the police have identified a suspect, perhaps a gang. This is the kind of environment in which impunity flourishes; criminals have little fear of being caught and brought to justice. That is the other side of anarchy.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Economic Growth Council (EGC), which aims, by 2020, to lift the country's growth rate to a sustainable five per cent per annum, says that "improving citizen security ... is the single most important growth-inducing reform that Jamaica can undertake". Yet, there is little hard evidence of this happening.

 

EFFICIENT AND TRUSTED

 

A large part of fixing security rests with having a police force that is efficient and trusted by the people it serves. Unfortunately, the JCF can't claim to enjoy these perquisites. Jamaicans largely perceive the JCF to be corrupt, not competently managed, and, therefore, in need of a radical overhaul.

And therein lies the merit of the undertaking the Government gave to the IMF. What remains unclear, though, is what precisely the administration has in mind and whether it has, or can muster, the will to do what is required, which could be electorally risky for a government.

For instance, a restructuring of the JCF will likely include removing a good portion of the top tier of its leadership - and other ranks - to be replaced with professional, incorruptible officers. Finding replacements could be difficult in Jamaica, which would mean returning to the policy of the early 2000s of recruiting from overseas.

Further, measured by outcomes, the political policy direction or oversight of the police has not worked well. Therefore, it would make sense to have civilian, non-political policy oversight of the constabulary. Jamaica's recent experience, and success, with the Economic Policy Oversight Committee for the previous IMF agreement, and the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team for power, hint at models in which people have confidence. There is an upside for Government with independent oversight: a level of cover against complaints of implementation failures.

These changes do not need to wait until the administration's new law is in place. That should be at the top of the agenda at the reconvened Vale Royal talks with the Opposition that Prime Minister Holness promised for early in the New Year.