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Terrence Williams | West Kingston enquiry: Overhaul army, police force

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Terrence Williams, commissioner of INDECOM.
Sir David Simmons, chairman of the commission of enquiry.
Residents of Tivoli Gardens in west Kingston protest with placards during a tour of the area, in April 24, 2015, by the commissioners and lawyers involved in the commission of enquiry.
Jamaica Defence Force soldiers on patrol in Tivoli Gardens on May 27, 2010 during the operation to arrest drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
A resident of Tivoli Gardens is animated as she speaks to lawyers and commissioners touring the community on April 24, 2015.

In the Tivoli operation, many soldiers and policemen served courageously under difficult conditions. Jamaica owes them a debt of gratitude. It is unfortunate that the discussion must surround those officers who failed to perform their duty. But it must. Doing so does not belittle the fine service of the good officers but seeks to have it emulated by bringing a change to the culture of the security forces.

Considering the great loss of life, anxiety, and discomfiture occasioned by the May 2010 Tivoli operations, we must not countenance the recommendations of the west Kingston commission of enquiry joining the library of other unimplemented recommendations. Many aspects of the conduct of the security forces in May 2010 would not be unfamiliar to Jamaicans: Many soldiers and policemen performing bravely, but others misconducting themselves. Familiar features include the wearing of masks, the failure to maintain proper records, and excessive force.

The commission of enquiry has called for significant change. This is also not new. For decades, victims' families, human-rights advocates, the courts, oversight agencies, and state-appointed committees have called for changes to the operations of our law-enforcement agencies. In 2008, the Ministry of National Security's Strategic Review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) called for cultural change, but many of its recommendations have been ignored. Change is overdue. What steps must be taken immediately to foster this change?




Disciplined organisations must promulgate and enforce codes to effectively regulate conduct. The commissioners raised the importance of protecting the public by relieving named officers from operational command, proper systems for punishment and reward, better control of the use of weapons, and improving the management of the special operations units, particularly the Mobile Reserve. The commissioners also called for better accountability by the further empowering of independent oversight, using weapons that facilitate tracing, proper record keeping, regulating the wearing of masks, and the use of body-worn cameras. These recommendations will call for alterations in the JCF and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) attitudes, practices, and policies.

To begin with, Government must be firm on the need to reform the JCF and the JDF. The heads of the forces must be given publicly known timetables to achieve particular targets. The required alterations are fundamental issues of policy that must be directed by the executive. Leaving it up to the respective heads may retard and dilute the needed improvements. In doing so, we must appreciate that there is no conflict between rights-based policing and effective policing.

Oppressive, law-defiant law enforcement has never controlled crime in a democracy. The predicament we are in has come about because of lax leadership and years of impunity. Those who have enjoyed it will not suffer accountability easily. There will be complaints that these measures cannot work in Jamaica and that all this criticism is demotivating. Reform must be achieved regardless.

Recognise that the problem is a failure in leadership. The abuse of rights constantly complained of, and found by the west Kingston commissioners of enquiry, were not by officers in mutiny. They were facilitated by commanders who, at best, failed to enforce rules or were incurious to allegations of abuse. Their initial response to the enquiry report is likely to mirror the familiar steps of denial, denigration of the messenger, and retreat into their silos. This must not be tolerated. The concern for leadership must surround the heads of the forces but not stop with them. All gazetted and commissioned officers must be challenged to become change managers. If they cannot be, they can have no place in the modern force.

The issues of mask wearing and poor record keeping exemplify the difficulties with police leadership. How did a professional force allow members to decide, unilaterally, to wear masks? Why was no one punished? Today, citizens continue to complain of encounters with masked policemen. The commanders, at best, must be guilty of wilful blindness.

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has constantly pointed out that the uniform and accoutrements of the forces must be approved by the minister, and, as regards the JCF, published in the Book of Rules. Those rules do not permit mask wearing.

Another example of the failure in leadership is the startling admission of the JCF recapped by the commission. The JCF had no records of the names of their members who were deployed to the sectors of Tivoli Gardens on the first two days of the operation! Leaders must foster a culture of observance of rules and encourage whistleblowing.

The commissioner of police and the chief of defence staff ought to publicly respond to the report's recommendation that the officers named be taken off internal security operations. Will they comply? If they will not, why not? The decision of the heads should be further reviewed by the Public Service Commission and Defence Board, respectively. First, as regards these named officers, and next, on the broader issue of taking members whose conduct is under a cloud of suspicion off regular duties until that cloud has been lifted.

Such a policy needs to be immediately imposed on the JDF and the JCF. Human-rights jurisprudence recognises that to do otherwise would be a breach of fundamental rights. The rationale is well grounded in common sense. The office of constable (and the soldier supporting him) enjoys the imprimatur of the State as he wields awesome powers to possibly infringe with our rights. Why cause those awesome powers to be performed by someone whose conduct is under suspicion?

The Mobile Reserve and special-operations units must be revamped. Throughout our history, we have created new police units to treat with rising crime. They tend to follow the USA SWAT team approach in that they are militaristic but sometimes uniquely blend intelligence gathering and operational functions. Jamaica certainly needs to have such specialised units meet the challenge of gunmen.

Indeed, the JDF often plays this role in support of the police. However, statistics show that very few deaths occur in operations where the JDF is present with the Mobile Reserve. Why is this so? Could it be a command issue? The review of these units recommended by the commission of enquiry must commence immediately. In the interim, the Mobile Reserve could fall under JDF control.




The commission of enquiry recommended further strengthening of the oversight framework. Amendment of the INDECOM Act is being advanced, but the leadership of the forces must embrace effective oversight. Failure to do so must be regarded as a failure in leadership. Much effort has been expended by the JCF and INDECOM to settle protocols so that members of both organisations can have their interactions ordered by accord rather than discord. Similar JDF cooperation is awaited. The settling of these protocols must be an immediate action for the forces.

The final immediate step is to begin frank discussions on the use-of-force issues. Eschew denial and encourage candour. With this start, we can turn to the next steps, which must include reform of use-of-force policies to increase accountability, implementing the recommendations of the 2008 Strategic Review, and modernising record keeping.

Change must come because of (not despite) our high crime rate as one of the reasons for this high crime rate is the lack of professionalism in some of the operations of our security forces. A professional security force respects human rights. A professional security force recognises that the trust of the public and general probity of its members are the keys to its success. Having to respect human rights and being accountable for actions ought not to demotivate anyone who intends to serve properly.

The commissioners have recommended that INDECOM continue its investigations into the deaths of those persons for whom it is believed there is some evidence that their deaths could have been caused by some misconduct. We will do so, but two points must be made.

First, as regards the JDF, we are awaiting a decision of the Full Court as to whether INDECOM has any jurisdiction to investigate the JDF's conduct. Further, the court is also to rule as to whether the JDF can keep some information from our view. These issues must be resolved before that investigation can continue. Second, the investigation of the shooting deaths has been severely hampered by the inept handling of the initial probe by the JCF.

The enquiry report particularly mentions the slowness in starting the processing of scenes, the limited recovery of spent shells, and the failure to have even the most rudimentary records as to the deployment of personnel. Despite the setback, we will continue to make every appropriate effort to identify the persons who may be culpable.

- Terrence Williams is commissioner of INDECOM. Email feedback to and