Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Orville Taylor | Police, INDECOM and the balance of truth

Published:Sunday | March 5, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Terrence Williams (left), commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations, and Assistant Commissioner Hamish Campbell at a press conference at INDECOM’s head office on Dumfries Road on February 27.

I am in a privileged position because I can say, without reservation and ambiguity, that I have full confidence in the integrity of the commissioner. And yes, that is exactly so for Terrence Williams, the commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), top cop Novelette Grant, and several of her other senior colleagues.

These persons are deeply committed to the preservation of law and order and the dispensation of justice. It is the same position I took with regard to Dr Carl Williams because when good, hard-working Jamaicans try to do what is right in nation-building, we must call a spade a shovel.

True, there appears to be a chasm between INDECOM and the 'House of Babylon', but I sincerely believe that their objectives are the same.

Nevertheless, given that they start from different ends of the spectrum, and perhaps a bit too much introspection, it is understandable that they might not seem to see 'I' to 'I'. Each entity must focus on its own remit.

So, Williams and his crew have to constantly look to determine whether or not police, military, and other law-enforcement agencies are acting in a fashion that is consistent with the rule of law and especially the use-of-force policies. In other words, INDECOM's main job is to make sure that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and its supporting cast of the army and correctional officers behave in a lawful manner and are not violating citizens' human rights and the JCF's own codes of conduct.

 

Misguided view

 

But here is where the focus breaks down. Somehow in the heads of observers, media personnel, and, apparently, some agents of INDECOM, is the misguided view that its primary objective is to bring about a reduction of fatal encounters between the citizens and the police. In the same way that it is not the mandate of Williams and his officers to protect the police and reduce the attacks by criminals against them, it is absolutely not their main business to bring about a reduction in police killings.

Indeed, any sensible Jamaican who understands the sanctity of life would not want to see anyone killed for any reason, or by anyone, including both criminals and the security forces. But there are circumstances when law-abiding citizens and law-enforcement officers have no recourse but to take life to protect themselves and others.

Against this background, there is a very elaborate use-of-force policy that is at least as good as the UN's standards. Importantly, it is better than that of the USA, based on the UN's and Amnesty International's observations.

Our cops primary objective is to enforce laws and protect the lives of the innocent, not those of persons who wish to harm or murder them. However, in carrying out their duties, they may encounter circumstances where they will have to take evasive action.

Wake up! This is Jamaica, where criminals routinely attack and kill police officers. Some have even taken out hits and put out poorly written orders, saying, "Dem yere police fi killed."

 

Equal treatment for all

 

Yet, we know that a constabulary that was designed to keep the lower classes or black-skinned natives in subjection cannot, overnight, become a modern police service treating everyone equally. Indeed, the ruling classes and the political parties since we gained universal adult suffrage have ensured that some of us are more equal than others. These same parliamentarians, with the full backing of big capital, allowed an entire generation of police to be trained under the deeply offensive and repugnant Suppression of Crime Act, which remained on our books from 1974 to 1994. This sanctioned the trampling of human rights and murders of suspects in what can properly be called 'extrajudicial killings'.

Long before INDECOM, the JCF itself recognised that a 21st-century police service could not continue running roughshod over the citizenry, murdering its young men and then expecting cooperation in the fight against crime. However, habits die hard, and there are still significant degenerate elements within the JCF who consort with criminals, solicit bribes, beat up youth and even their spouses routinely, sexually abuse children and women, and, of course, who murder both in the purported execution of their duties and in their substantive careers as criminals themselves who managed to sneak into the corps.

It is these reprobates who INDECOM rightfully targets. So, for me, when it is measuring its success, it cannot be simply as Assistant Commissioner Hamish Campbell baulks that we have seen a 55 per cent increase in fatal police encounters. The increase or decrease in police killing is at best a slightly useful statistic. Follow me!

It is a simple no-brainer that in a violent society, the level of aggression against the police is likely to be ever present. Second, a police force that faces increasing violence must have more reason to increase its own ferocity to repel it.

 

Can't fight fire with fire

 

Between 2015 and 2016, attacks against the police and the homicide rates both surged. True, in behavioural sciences and in Church, we teach that you can't fight fire with fire. But I am not using a water pistol in facing a gunman who is armed with serious firepower.

So, here is what must be gleaned from the recent INDECOM report and press conference: The number and percentage of 'suspicious' killings by the police decreased in absolute and relative numbers. So, if the number of such cases reduced from 39 to 24, shrinking by 38 per cent, what does that tell you? It says, people, that the efforts being made by INDECOM and the internal responses of the JCF are producing the success to which they are mandated.

So how come no one celebrates the measurable positives of these little Third World people? Does anyone know that there is no equivalent of INDECOM in the USA or the UK and that the majority of black persons killed by the American police over the past decade was not during planned police operations and most of the suspects were unarmed?

Doubtless, there is more improvement that is desirable. However, somehow in all of the hysteria, we failed to recognise that there is much for which to congratulate both entities.

So let me do it here.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.