Wed | May 24, 2017

Orville Taylor | Long arm of the law for all

Published:Sunday | May 7, 2017 | 5:00 AM
Police Commissioner George Quallo tries to console Regina Hanson, whose only son, Constable Leighton Hanson, was murdered two Fridays ago.

The best deterrent to criminal behaviour is the certainty of detection and punishment. This goes for every Jack man and Jenny woman in the society.

Commissioner of Police George Quallo, with his voice matching his name as he struggled to fight off a bug during his inauguration, got a baptism of fire. Were it not for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) band's background music, he might have heard the shots ringing out as an individual with no regard for law and order or even his own life snuffed out that of Constable Leighton Hanson. What an initiation. Within two days on the job, another officer, Detective Sergeant Dale Thompson, had succumbed to wounds inflicted by criminals on January 28, 2017. That is literally 'one a day', not the ideal daily medication. However, tough a cop he is, it is a bitter pill to swallow.

This is not a numbers game, but something is apparently making some members of the criminal underground bolder, even if more foolish. And I am going to resist the temptation to give substance to some members of the JCF who argue that the police are slow to act and slower to draw because they are hesitant because of fear of being persecuted.

It is a grand narrative, and I would hate to think that police personnel who have been well trained and are fully apprised of the use-of-force policy would think that they have anything to fear from the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). I haven't yet heard it, and am not listening, but I am willing to bet that pockets of policemen and women believe that the constable was killed because he exercised restraint and thus allowed the perpetrator to overpower him.

One can't second-guess the poor man, because none of us were in the situation. However, for those who might have doubts, there is nothing in the policy that dictates that one should allow an armed or unarmed man (or woman for that matter) to grab an armed policeman and attempt to wrestle his firearm from him or do him any harm. It takes a very brave or stupid man or woman to do as the once popular dancehall recording invites, "Run come up inna di Magnum ... ."

Yet, the silver lining is that the assailant was almost immediately intercepted by another member of the security forces, and despite the efforts of the police who took him to hospital, he succumbed to his injuries.

One might think that my last sentence is tongue in cheek. However, I can assure you that the two nouns do not align for me, because my genuine belief, instructed by facts, is that the police can actually do what INDECOM might seem to think is impossible. That is, reduce the number of cases where suspects are killed under questionable circumstances, when the use-of-force policy appears breached, and at the same time increase their determination in defending themselves against persons who won't hesitate to take them on.

It might sound like a paradox, but that is precisely what happened over the past year. More suspects were killed by the police but fewer of the killings, in absolute and percentage terms, were suspicious.

Moreover, despite the belief that thugs have been getting away with their crimes, more criminal offences, including murder, have been cleared up by the cops over the past two to three years than in any other period since the 1960s. Therefore, the fact that dozens of suspected members of the lotto scamming network are being targeted and being scraped up, while others are making skid marks in their underwear, is not surprising. It is a classic case of 'long run; short ketch'.

 

LOCAL POLICE ON THE JOB

 

Similarly, the same set of persons who distribute the notes, seeking to extort, ought to take the message back to their cronies that it is not only US law-enforcement agencies that are on to scammers. Our own Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA) is on top of more schemes and plans than they think and are ready to give the F grade as they fail at the beginning and not reap success.

Still, Quallo knows that his men and women are doing a better job than most people think, and are under more scrutiny and have purged more dirty members than any other sector within the justice system. We can easily check how many police officers have been charged departmentally or criminally. That is published quarterly and annually.

Police officers are given polygraph tests before and during enlistment. Should other officers of the court, who swear oaths to never lie or make their clients lie and who are just as bound by the laws of perjury, not be made to do polygraphs, too?

However, where can we find reports of lawyers who have faced intra-professional charges before the General Legal Council? And no! I am not asking about those who have been found guilty. If we used the same standards for the cops, their numbers would be far fewer.

Never mind the myth about the infallibility of judges or the anecdotes being made out of the recent case involving a popular, 'no-nonsense' judge. Parish court judges are notorious for passing strange judgements. And that is especially possible in courts where they can hide their idiosyncrasies in non-publicised sittings.

I might not go full throttle with Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, but there needs to be far more openness in the level and degree of scrutiny the custodians of our justice system face.

Without question, I do not share the view that the same study that reported 12 per cent of Jamaicans reporting paying bribes to cops was wrong in the report that six per cent of us paid graft to 'Yer Hanna' or 'Mi Lud'. No one should be beyond scrutiny. And, yes, polygraph all of you, too, Your Ladyship.

However, a country that sent Marcus Garvey to prison in 1930 for doing exactly what I am asking of judges today is not interested in the blindness of justice. We only want to catch common criminals and the police, who are commoners, too.

- 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.