Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Editorial | General Anderson’s best shot

Published:Sunday | August 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

No one expects, or wants, Antony Anderson to turn up at every crime scene to recycle platitudes, or offer banalities and cliches about unturned stones in solving cases. Who people expect to see in those circumstances are professional scene-of-crime officers and other investigators.

What Jamaicans expect from General Anderson, however, is a clear articulation of ideas for the reform of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to transform it into a trusted and efficient organisation that, in sustained fashion, credibly responds to incidents of crime, as well as develop and execute strategies to contain criminality. It is now approximately six months since he has been on the job and, unfortunately, the police chief has not had that conversation with the Jamaican people, the constituency he is sworn to serve and protect. He is in danger of losing their patience.

In another circumstance, if he was in another job, or if he was still chief of defence staff and head of the Jamaica Defence Force, which is without the issues that confront the constabulary, General Anderson's prolonged silence might have been all right. And especially so since there are no questions about his integrity, intellect or perceived competence.

But as police chief, General Anderson is operating in an acknowledgeably different environment. The JCF is notoriously corrupt. Or, at least, a significant portion of the force is, causing a drag on the entire constabulary. Its institutional culture, some argue, is one of impunity, and resistance to change.

This police force exists in a country of high crime, where there were more than 1,600 homicides in 2017, for a murder rate of around 60 per 100,000. Fewer than half of those murders are cleared up, the police's way of saying they have, in some fashion, identified a suspect, even if he, or she, hasn't been brought to justice. Indeed, in only a small fraction of these killings is anyone ever brought to court.

 

18 PER CENT DECLINE

 

We recognise, of course, the 18 per cent decline in murders for this year, up to the middle of August, compared with the same period in 2017. While this fall in homicides - of which there were still over 800 - is sincerely welcome, it has to be noted that the bulk of the drop was driven by a more than 60 per cent reduction in the number of killings in St James, as well as a notable, if less dramatic, fall in St Catherine.

Both of these areas are under states of public emergency, meaning that limits are placed on citizens' rights and that their communities are under watch by large numbers of police and soldiers. Which brings the issue back to General Anderson's strategic vision.

States of public emergency, with their impingement of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms, were not intended to be long-term policing tools in democratic societies, but short-term responses to security threats. In that regard, we question the sustainability of the existing ones. Further, with less than five per cent of the well over 2,000 people detained in St James not charged for any crime, it is moot whether it is the state of emergency per se, or the heightened presence of the security forces, that is responsible for the decline in killings. In the event that it is the latter, there are obvious questions about the strategy for maintaining the peace in the post-emergency situation and for its extension to other areas where there is an uptick in murder.

Further, deepening the philosophy of civilian policing in the JCF will demand an overhaul of the institutions, beyond a change in its governing legislation. This will require the removal, either by direct termination or attrition, of some people in leadership and in the ranks. It will also demand financial resources and political will.

None of this is easy. And while General Anderson may be favoured by the political leadership, they are likely to be skittish about expending political capital for him to have a good shot at getting the job done, assuming that he sees things as we do. If he does, the best way for General Anderson to move things on is to win the support of the public for his ideas, but that can only happen if they know what those ideas are.