Editorial | Ombudsman wrong on police criticisms
Donna Parchment Brown, the dispute resolution specialist and political ombudsman, is not someone with whom this newspaper often disagrees. She is highly intelligent, and her voice, invariably, one of reason. This time, though, we find ourselves at odds with Mrs Parchment Brown over her complaint last week at what she sees as too much criticism of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and its incapacity to fight crime.
While Mrs Parchment Brown acknowledged weaknesses in the constabulary, she argued police officers are "easy targets" for attacks, when, in fact, they are short of resources to do their jobs, and other factors, such as poor parenting, contribute to an environment that drives crime.
Furthermore, Mrs Parchment Brown characterised the criticism of the police as disrespect, which has the potential for negatively impacting morale and the service delivered by police officers.
She says although there are weaknesses in the JCF, Jamaicans cannot continue to disrespect the police without impacting the morale of the force and, potentially, their service delivery. "The easiest thing to do is to hit a man when he is down," she said.
Mrs Parchment Brown, of course, mischaracterises what is largely thoughtful critique and justifiable criticisms of the JCF, to the institution's own good. The police force, as she says, is under-resourced and faces factors outside of its own control, in dealing with Jamaica's crisis of crime.
But what the ombudsman failed to sufficiently address is the reality of a JCF as a badly fractured - if not totally broken - institution. There are indeed many good and honest police officers, who work hard and effectively. But the bald fact of the JCF is that it has more than a critical mass of its members who are corrupt, whose impact is to fuel institutional incompetence and ineffectiveness.
Further, the police force suffers from a protective institutional culture, the so-called 'squaddie mentality' that makes it resistant to change. There is a circling of the wagons at any attempt at reform. In the circumstances, what Mrs Parchment Brown perceives as hitting a man when he is down is the importance of failings and failures aimed at building a broad consensus around the need for a radical overhaul of the JCF. In the absence of such reforms would be throwing resources at the JCF to construct a new, shiny super-structure on a rotten foundation. Soon, everything would collapse.
The first plank in this latest effort of rebuilding the JCF must be the appointment of a strong, reform-minded commissioner of police with a clear mandate to be the harbinger of change. For that, hopefully, we have the support of Mrs Parchment Brown.