Editorial | Legit concern about police donations
Antony Anderson, Jamaica's police chief, has placed on the table a policy question that has dogged constabularies around the world and should be clearly addressed in new legislation the Holness administration is now crafting for the police force.
It has to do with how, and under what circumstances, if any, the police should accept donations, whether from private citizens or corporate entities. The matter is covered neither by law nor, insofar as we can tell, formal policy.
There is no immediately available data on the volume or value of donations received by the Jamaica Constabulary Force or its members. Nor is there a requirement that police officers log personal gifts.
However, giving to Jamaica's constabulary, the institution, and the force's willingness to accept, anecdotal evidence suggests, is not insubstantial - understandable in the context of Jamaica's economic environment. Even with the more than J$30 billion spent on it, Jamaica's police force is underfunded.
That shows in the JCF's too few officers; run-down police stations; the force's inadequacy of technology; and insufficient vehicles. So, when private citizens and firms offer resources to the police, its bosses, and the policymakers, have, for the most part, willingly accepted.
Major General Anderson, the former chief of defence staff recently installed as commissioner of police, has a concern. He told Television Jamaica's Dionne Jackson-Miller: "If there is one organisation that should not be funded, except through the public purse, it should be the police force."
The danger of accepting private gifts, he argued, is in the expectations that are likely to be raised on the part of the giver, and possibility of "creating the mechanism for two-tiered policing". In other words, an officer may be inclined to impose undue self-restraint in dealing with a case involving a donor. At the very least, it raises the perception of bias.
While General Anderson's concern, with which this newspaper is sympathetic, is giving the issue deepened intensity, it is not the first time that the ethical implications of private donations have been raised by a public authority. Six years ago, the auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis, in a review of certain elements of the JCF, noted that over the previous five years, 151 vehicles had been donated to the police force. But more critical was the observation that despite her requests, no evidence was provided to indicate that the police force had done assessments "to satisfy itself that the donations would not prejudice its ability to execute its mandate and would add economic and operational benefits".
Around the same time that Mrs Monroe Ellis was conducting her investigation, London's Metropolitan police was under scrutiny for receiving PS23 million over five years from corporate donors, which, though a minuscule proportion of its annual PS3-billion budget, critics said raised questions about transparency and operational fairness. The Met explained that donations above a benchmark amount had to be approved by the city official with direct oversight for the police.
More recently, in Queensland, Australia, the state's police force had to fend off criticism for accepting A$700,000 from corporate donors over an 18-month period. Across many jurisdictions where private foundations raise money for police forces, having the names of sponsors on police vehicles is increasingly being questioned.
It is not unreasonable to fear that people who can afford to fund constabularies may be favoured by an overt or unconscious positive bias by the police. In Jamaica, we expect there to be claims that the constabulary can't eschew private donations and similar support. At the very least, the matter should be robustly debated. Any system that is in place must be fully transparent.