Mon | Mar 1, 2021

Editorial | Police lacking in accountability

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2021 | 8:49 AM

There is a kind of arrogance that has crept into the leadership of the police force which we think is aided and abetted by a Government that does not demand accountability from our public servants.

We believe that it is this lack of effective police accountability that has largely contributed to the escalating violence in communities where there is zero trust in the police. Instead of a strong, collaborative relationship, what we see in many communities, particularly in the inner-city, is resentment and suspicion of police activities.

One blatant example of this creeping arrogance of which we speak was on display at a recent press conference where Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson was questioned about the mysterious plane that crashed in the sea off Rocky Point, Clarendon.

The commissioner waffled a bit, saying they have information of who was on board, suggesting that Jamaica was not the intended destination, then declaring that he was not going to say anything else about the matter. This response was disappointing and has helped to shape public conversation on what police transparency ought to look like.

If the commissioner of police does not think that good governance demands that he gives a fulsome report on a matter of public interest, what then is the alternative?

Theories Aplenty

In the absence of official information, there has been no shortage of theories about what really happened. They run the gamut from pilot and passengers being whisked away in a taxi to possible police involvement and speculation about the nature of the original mission.

The only way to promote police legitimacy and create a police force that is accountable is to establish policies that promote collaboration between the police and the people they serve. It begins with being transparent. For instance, Jamaica is awash with guns and they are being smuggled into the island in a number of ways. Many coastal residents may possess information about smugglers but, how can they be persuaded to share this knowledge?

Public in the Dark

Just last weekend, three foreigners arrived in their go-fast boat on the western shores, allegedly to collect illicit drug cargo, and again the public has been left in the dark about who, what, when and where, and importantly, what if anything is being done to strengthen our borders.

Let’s be clear about one thing; we understand that investigations may be at a delicate stage and some things are better left unsaid in the short term. However, faith in the integrity of how the police carry out their job is strongly buttressed by accountability.

The Government and its agencies, the Parliament, justice ministry, civil society and police oversight bodies, all have different roles to play in ensuring this accountability, which is critical in addressing the crime problem that has put the country on edge for many decades.

Admittedly, the police face unique risks in doing their jobs. Daily, they encounter fearsome gangs that are armed to the teeth, which is why we believe there is merit in calls for rewarding and incentivising their work. We also expect them to be equipped to do the job, including getting ongoing training and education to increase their skills and improve their capabilities.

And after all that, achieving public confidence remains crucial to fighting crime and winning against criminals.

The commissioner and senior officers will not get the cooperation they so desperately need, if they simply choose to dismiss matters they don’t want to talk about, and fail to address high-profile cases which keep the nation on edge.