Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Horace Levy | Another empty promise

Published:Saturday | November 9, 2019 | 12:13 AM

INDECOM this past week praised the fewer fatal shootings by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) while commenting that it was still too high. It also asked whether a police officer whose published article deserved to have him at least suspended had in fact so been treated. That matter was raised in INDECOM’s last quarterly report.

So far there’s been no public reply to INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams and Deputy Commissioner Hamish Campbell from JCF’s Commissioner Antony Anderson, nor, judging from past behaviour, are we likely to get one. But why not?

Why cannot the public get quarterly reports from Anderson and the JCF? Why can’t we hear how officers who have been called out by INDECOM for bad behaviour have been dealt with by their organisation? Can’t there be some transparency on the part of a body, many of whose members have lost the trust of so many of the public? Would that not go a far way towards restoring trust?

It would be so good, for instance, if the public could hear what has happened to the reform of the Mobile Reserve (MR) that was promised some months ago by Minister of National Security Horace Chang. There has been talk of an elite squad being trained and one is not asking for every detail, but surely some outline of progress could be highly appropriate. The public wants to learn about the JCF’s good deeds.

Minister Chang’s public promise appears to have been prompted (though he denied it, claiming previous plans) by an episode at Chedwin Park in St Catherine shortly before. There, reportedly, the death of a businessman involved two MR members who were then chased by another police officer. Yet it is also reported that the MR men are still on front-line duty. Does this report have any truth? The public should know and, if true, know why.

It must be borne in mind that the Mobile Reserve got a very black eye from the Report of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry laid before Parliament in June 2016. Many MR members were implicated in the heartless murder of over a score (and possibly double that number) of young Tivoli men. Several, including its now-deceased MR head, were severely rebuked by name for their part in what amounted to a cover-up of the massacre – the loss of forensic evidence that could have led to charges being placed against culpable individuals.

DEATHLY SILENCE

The commission called also for steps toward fresh oversight and direction of the Reserve, steps which, up to the Chedwin Park episode, were never taken.

Over the years, prompted by MR’s reported extrajudicial killings while intervening, without notice to local commanders, in incidents of community violence, similar recommendations have been made by other notable agencies. They started from 1991 and 1992 with the Hirst Report and Wolfe Commission, through the Police Executive Research Forum in 2000, down to INDECOM’s, backed by its data on MR’s high number of police fatalities.

These recommendations have ranged from putting oversight in Defence Force hands, to conversion into anti-terrorist squad, to total abolition. But up to now, nil is publicly known.

What action is taken in respect of the Mobile Reserve could be a touchstone, a signal of the transformation required for the entire Jamaica Constabulary Force if violence and murder, Jamaica’s number one monster, is to be caged. After the promise of a Police Service Act, the silence has been deathly – politicians appear to have a patent on the empty promise.

Horace Levy is a human-rights advocate and member of the Peace Management Initiative. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com