Editorial | Echoes from Supt Brown-Ellis
When the warning comes from inside, you can't but heed it. In that regard, the observations by Superintendent Gladys Brown-Ellis and what they say about the competence of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and imply about its culture are worthy of serious attention, especially at this time when the organisation is in search of a new leader.
Mrs Brown-Ellis is head of the JCF's Court of Enquiry, the internal body that hears evidence and rules on complaints of misconduct against police officers after investigations mostly by the Inspectorate of the Constabulary (IOC). Too often, Superintendent Brown-Ellis lamented at a recent forum hosted by the IOC, her enquiry has to work with the results of "shoddy investigations", which sometimes demand files being sent back to investigators.
"I have to rule on what I get," she said. "So, if I get rubbish, I have to rule on rubbish ... . The problem I have is that some of the files need a lot of work."
There are two significant inferences to be drawn, we believe, from this observation. One is that investigative inefficiencies and incompetence are pervasive in the JCF, represented by the fact that hardly more than 40 per cent of homicides cases are 'cleared up', and that a far lower ratio of the cases that are 'solved' and reach the courts end in convictions. The bottom line is that there is need for great improvement, as Superintendent Brown-Ellis suggests, in the investigative capacities of the police force.
The second and more sinister interpretation of Mrs Brown-Ellis' observation is of the deliberate botching by police investigators of probes of alleged misconduct by their colleagues. Or, looked at another way, this interpretation falls squarely with the widely held perception of a pervasive and enduring 'squaddie' culture in the JCF, in which loyalty to the group as a whole, or to one squad, or training batch, trumps adherence to principle or to the solemn oath members take to uphold the law.
It is an attitude that helps to sustain and explain the corruption to which large swathes of the force have succumbed and have hardened the institution's resistance to change and modernisation.
Whatever the analysis or interpretation applied to Mrs Brown-Ellis' observation, these are issues to be seriously considered in choosing a new leader for the JCF. That leader, if the JCF is to be a professional, effective and trusted police force, has to have the will to lead a major transformation of the organisation, undeterred by his or her antecedents in the institution.
In other words, he or she has to be able to rise above the squaddie culture. That is difficult for someone who grew up in the JCF. In that regard, as we have argued before, the authorities should seek to recruit the new police chief from outside the constabulary and provide the person with the mandate and support to radically overhaul the force.