Wed | Dec 7, 2016

New commissioner, old basket

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Peter Phillips (left), former minister of national security, greets newly installed commissioner of police, Carl Williams, at the Police Officers' Club in St Andrew last Monday. At centre is Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Martin Henry, Columnist

Dr Carl McKay Williams has been warmly welcomed by almost everyone, including that shadowy group labelled 'international partners', as the 28th commissioner of the 1867-founded Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Poor man.

As the cartoonists are apt to draw, the embracers are extending one hand with the other held behind their back concealing their demand list for the new commissioner.

None of the 14 commissioners of police since Independence has been particularly successful in crime fighting. Or, more correctly, the police force, headed by a series of mostly rapid turnover commissioners, has not been successful in its remit.

Commissioner Williams comes to office "cushioned", as the other Gleaner puts it, by a "major decline in murders". A 15 per cent decline in murders, even though as warmly welcomed as the cushioned commissioner, is not a "major" decline, but a rather modest fall from the horrendous heights we have been experiencing year after year. Crime, as benchmarked by murder, has grown and grown steadily upwards since independence; 60 murders in 1960, 1,200 in 2013!

Both Mama and the minister have already revealed their hands. At the end of that snappy and smart change-of-command ceremony down to white gloves for clean hands, Mama Lynette Williams said she was "asking the good Lord and you members of the public to give him your support".

The minister, too, believes in divine intervention, although he has been advised from certain quarters that it does not work and he should resign if divine intervention is his secret crime-fighting weapon.

God is far more likely to comply with Mama's wishes than are members of the public. While God's ways may be inscrutable, we can be pretty certain that the thoroughly scrutable public will soon turn upon Commissioner Williams with the same vigour with which he has been embraced. Unless God comes through for him with a miracle. And as another crisis-challenged leader, King David, familiar with divine intervention, divined ages ago, it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men.

THE LUCKIER MAN

Glenmore Hinds, who briefly acted as commissioner following Owen Ellington's strange retirement and is now relieved of that onerous office, may be the luckier man.

The minister's mandate to the new commissioner is to:

  • Continue the process of making the Jamaica Constabulary Force a professional organisation.
  • Focus on ensuring that the police respect the human rights of citizens.
  • Continue making significant progress in the fight against organised crime and corruption.

Keyword, 'continue'. The problems of policing are known. The solutions are known. Dr Williams is a PhD-grade scholar. He has lots of reports, spanning decades, to read; and the capacity to digest them. The police force has never been better qualified, from commissioner to constable. But, as everybody will soon discover, certificates alone can't cut it.

The minister, Peter, not Paul, though his name is, has had his Damascus Road (or villa) epiphany. His colleagues and prime minister had better listen to this converted man holding the security of the nation in his hands.

Rising from his knees in Church, the minister of insecurity has gone on his knees before the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) to beg them to beg the Ministry of Finance and Planning on his behalf for $2 billion more per year to fight crime. Yes, Minister! God answers prayers!

EPOC chairman, Richard Byles, says Bunting pointed to a study published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica which stated that if Jamaica could reduce the crime rate to that of Costa Rica, it would add 5.4 per cent per annum growth to the nation's gross domestic product.

I have been arguing the case in this space long before the minister did to EPOC.

Two clips from the recent past:

January 5, 2014: "Law enforcement and the justice system are disgracefully undermanned and ill-equipped in the current climate of lawlessness, disorder, crime and violence. I repeat an old riding horse suggestion, three months ahead of Budget: Finance and Planning must start top-slicing from the budgets of all other ministries a relatively painless and manageable percentage to be added to Security and Justice. My magic number is five per cent; but we can set the actuaries to work."

December 1, 2013: "What the commissioner will not say publicly is that the majority of murder cases, with convictions requiring long, detailed work by many persons, must simply be quietly ignored if the police are to do anything else, like barring insistent journalists from overrunning the prime minister, or prosecuting ganja cases against majority public opinion for decriminalisation of personal use ... or directing traffic, for that matter.

"Minister Bunting is very modestly asking for only $2 billion more per year. Which is a mere 0.37% of this year's $540b Budget! We must give something more to Mark Golding at Justice, too. The core functions of Government everywhere, every time are public safety, law and order, and justice, without which, nothing else flourishes."

And a few words of advice to Commissioner Williams: Public servants, tangled up in tradition and given basket to carry water, are very reluctant to talk to the public about their basket, the operational conditions of their unit through which performance and effectiveness leak away. Talk to us, Dr Williams. There is no law against it. And if the kitchen gets too hot, you can youthfully retire like Ellie, and go into academia or consultancy with all those impressive qualifications. The police force has a long list of basic needs for operational efficiency, including gas and tyres for service vehicles, not to mention protective vests. The force desperately needs manpower. Talk up di tings dem, man. It is the minister's job to find the money for mandate. And he's trying.

I hear you, sir, talking tough and playing to the gallery at your installation about not tolerating corruption and human rights abuses in the JCF. And, of course, these things must be dealt with decisively for a better force. But I also hear the Police Federation, which covers the rank and file who must daily face the brunt of crime and public disorder (in the region of 700 gun attacks a year against them, eight killed last year), crying out to you "to address the low morale among members of the police force". You must listen.

I offer you the same word of counter-current unpopular advice that I offered to your predecessor: You can only achieve through the women and men under you. The first task of the commanding officer is to build the trust and morale of the troops who will make or break your leadership by their conduct in the field. And this requires reposing confidence in them and praising them and recognising them and rewarding them, not castigating them and putting them down for public applause.

You have an Anti-Corruption Branch, and there's INDECOM. Let them clean up the mess - and take the rap. Go build, not break, the morale of the women and men in uniform whom you lead and who form a thin red line between us and lawlessness, public disorder and uncontrolled criminality, and who, like you, are sworn to 'serve, protect and reassure'.

Martin Henry is a university administrator and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.