Editorial | Still fuzzy about police reform
Antony Anderson, the police chief, would understand why his recent press conference left most Jamaicans feeling unfulfilled and ungratified. It delivered far less than was promised. People remain as fuzzy as ever about the big vision for the constabulary.
General Anderson, the former head of the Jamaica Defence Force, has a difficult job, at which he has been for 14 months. He presides over a constabulary that is notoriously corrupt and inefficient, in one of the world’s most murderous countries. Despite a 22 per cent decline in homicides last year, there were still more than 1,200 killings in Jamaica, for a murder rate of over 45 per 100,000.
It is common ground that the drop in murders in 2018 was attributable, mostly, to a year-long state of emergency in the most troubled parish, St James, as well as another for nearly as long in St Catherine north. Recently, a state of public emergency was declared in the island’s three most westerly parishes – St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.
But states of emergency, which allow the infringement of constitutional rights and freedoms, including allowing the security forces greater powers to search and detain people without the intervention of the courts, aren’t, or oughtn’t to be, fundamental policing strategies. They ought, at best, to be short-term responses to unexpected developments. Jamaica suffers from a chronic crisis of crime.
An effective response to this persistent epidemic demands a range of inter-related interventions – social, economic and institutional. But a sine qua non of any strategy must be a competent police force that enjoys the trust of citizens, which is not the case with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
The JCF, it has long been acknowledged, needs a fundamental overhaul. It has been the subject of a large number of studies and reports over the past quarter century. General Anderson, in his previous roles as head of the army and the Government’s national security adviser, has had a front-row seat, and, we expect, intimate knowledge, of these matters.
So, when Horace Chang, the national security minister, hyped the planned disbandment of the police’s reputationally-damaged Mobile Reserve as “the beginning of a major reformation” of the constabulary, about which General Anderson would expand, there was expectation that the police chief had developed a grand strategy for the overhaul of the force. That, people expected, would have been unveiled at the police chief’s press conference.
It isn’t this newspaper’s contention that General Anderson hasn’t done much planning, or that the intended disbanding of Mobile Reserve, to be replaced by a new and professional rapid-response formations, are not significant developments. But they are not the big ideas that will fundamentally transform the JCF into an effective crime prevention and detection law enforcement agency.
But how General Anderson proceeds, it seems, will be determined by more studies. He said at his press conference: “There will be a suite of audits into various aspects of the force. Based on the outcomes of this process, we will undertake various reforms that will transition us into an organisation we can be proud of.”
We had hoped to hear, with clarity, changes General Anderson believes to be necessary to deliver the constabulary he wants; the laws that are required for that to happen; the economic and other costs of the proposed transformation; the policy options he has put to the Government; the time-lines for implementation; and his proposed mechanisms for building political and social consensus for the project to be successful. Maybe we, like others, missed their articulation.