Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Gordon Robinson | A real police shake-up

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In an awkward-looking photo op, Minister of National security Robert Montague (left) fastens one of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's 150th anniversary pins on the uniform of George Quallo, commissioner of police, on January 11.

A fellow Twitterite posted the following on January 14:

"I would like to know which law...speaks to who the Police Commish reports to...because like I said "nobody seems to know" and if the Commish reports or is accountable to no one we have a little problem that needs fixing maybe @TheTerribleTout could provide some guidance?"

This came in the wake of Palisadoes' New Year fiasco followed by the very public Abbott and Costello routine between the national security (NatSec) minister and police commissioner who took two 'reports' to identify the officer responsible for a traffic-control blunder. In the midst of their "Who's on first?" skit, both denied Uncle asked Commish to resign. Subsequently, at a handover of pins to JCF, they generated a public bonding session marked by awkward hugs and loud statements of unity. So, now Quallo is wearing Uncle's pin, the Twitterite asks: What's the real relationship?

Since New York City's (NYC; population 8.5 million) murder rate (290 last year) is less than St James' (population 180,000), NYC might be a convenient starting point in answering that query. Around the turn of the 20th century, Governor Teddy Roosevelt signed legislation abolishing the police commission (equivalent to Jamaica's Police Service Commission) and superintendent of police (police chief) and replacing them with a single commissioner of police. Since then, NYC's commissioner has been appointed by NYC's mayor; serves at the mayor's pleasure on a five-year contract; and reports directly to the mayor. Current Commissioner James O'Neill was appointed by Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2016.




Importantly, NYC commissioners and their deputies are civilian administrators under an oath of office not uniformed members of the force who are sworn officers of the law. De Blasio recently credited technology (cameras everywhere) and effective "neighbourhood policing" for NYC's reduction in murders. He emphasised police were specially trained in gaining community members' trust. Today, NYPD personnel and community residents exchange personal cell-phone numbers for easy, immediate contact as needed.

NYC's commissioner knows exactly who his boss is. Jamaica's commish? Not so much.

The Constitution creates a Public Service Commission (PSC) and "power to make appointments to public offices and to remove and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in any such offices is hereby vested in the governor-general acting on the advice of the PSC" [Section 125(1)], but the PSC must consult with the Police Service Commission (PolSC) before advising on police appointments [125(2)];

But PolSC is also constitutionally created (Section 129) and, in an exercise of semantic gymnastics bettered only by a Trump tweet, it's provided that the police commissioner is to be appointed by the GG on the advice of PolSC after consultation with PSC, thus apparently overriding the earlier authority given to PSC.

But even that appointment procedure muddle isn't as complicated as reality lurking in the wings. PolSC and PSC are effectively appointed by the PM, whose recommendation "shall" be implemented by the GG. PM must tell the Opposition Leader, in advance, who he's about to appoint. It also seems PM (through GG) can dismiss PolSC/PSC members summarily. Bruce Golding did that and a subsequent lawsuit filed by dismissed PSC members was settled before trial.

The Constabulary Force Act vests the police commissioner with "sole operational command and superintendence of the force". Officially, Minister can't hire or fire, but he "may give to the commissioner directions as to the policy to be followed by the force". The Police Service Regulations (Regulation 20) mandates the commissioner to report to PolSC on the performance of policemen from the rank of sergeants upwards (for promotion consideration). There's no other legislative or regulatory requirement for the commish to report to anybody.

Somehow, we've moved away from the above legal framework to a scenario where Government created an Office of the Services Commissions (OSC) calling itself "the Secretariat for the four Services Commissions [PSC; PolSC; Judicial Service Commission; and Local Government Service Commission]within central and local government" and claiming it ensures "that appointments, promotions and selections for training are done on the basis of merit and ... disciplinary and separation processes are properly managed" (source: OSC website).

There's no legal provision creating this agency or permitting any merger or usurpation of the separate commissions' powers. The following mission statement from former chief personnel officer (CPO), Dr Lois Parkes (my old cricket coach's daughter), still appears on its website: "Working in collaboration with our services commissions and other key stakeholders, this office strives to ensure the principles of merit, transparency, fairness and equity are upheld in the appointment, separation, discipline and training of employees in central government, the judiciary, the local authorities and the Jamaica Constabulary Force."

My Chinese food chef would say "Wok the heck?" What's meant by "collaboration"? By what authority is this "collaboration" permitted? At what cost? One thing for sure, you can't "collaborate" with yourself, so OSC is a separate and distinct agency from any of the services commissions.

Public notification of a new PolSC appointment, effective February 1, 2016, contained this addendum:

"The secretary to the Police Service Commission is a member of staff of the OSC and is appointed to perform the duties of the commission in keeping with Regulation 4 of the Police Service Regulations, 1961."

BUT this isn't "in keeping with Regulation 4", which regulates ONLY operations of PolSC and provides: "The chief personnel officer shall, with the approval of the PSC, appoint an officer on the staff of the Services Commissions to perform the duties of secretary to the Police Service Commission." Obviously:

CPO mentioned in Regulation 4 is PolSC's CPO, not OSC's CPO;

OSC staff members aren't, without more, staff members of any of the Services Commissions;

"Services Commissions" in Regulation 4 doesn't include OSC.

The clandestine undermining of the Constabulary Force Act's protection of Commish from political interference is even more insidious. Yet another unlegislated 'agency', Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA), apparently created on the fly in 2006, operates as a mechanism, separate from JCF, to "ensure accountability, adherence to policy guidelines and observance of proper policing standards by the police force" (source: NatSec Ministry website).

What's the result of this legal labyrinth? In law, on operational matters, Commish reports to nobody EXCEPT the PolSC (on performance of policemen for consideration for promotion), but he's also subject to the efforts of a whimsical OSC (to ensure principles of merit, transparency, fairness and equity in police appointment, separation, discipline and training); and a similarly ethereal PCOA, a NatSec ministry agency ensuring "adherence to policy guidelines and "proper policing standards".

Proper policing standards? What's that? Sounds to me like NatSec ministry weaselling its way into operational matters. After all this, what's left for Commish to command? Press releases? As icing on a cake with more flavours than Cassata, Commish works under a permanent sword of Damocles as NatSec minister, with PM's confidence, can leverage his dismissal. Holy chaos, Batman!

See why IMF demands public-sector reform and I demand Constitutional reform? National Security isn't amenable to any bureaucracy much less this manic maze. Why can't Commish report to/work with a directly elected PM or NatSec minister (vetted/approved by Parliament) within a system of governance permitting impeachment of Cabinet members and MPs' recall?

This would permit adaptation and implementation of the obviously superior NYC model where a mayor has de facto but thoughtfully used operational control, and there's no opportunity for too many cooks to spoil the crime-fighting stew. That simple, effective chain of command has public support in NYC because its mayor is directly elected. Neither PM nor NatSec minister is directly elected by, or accountable to, Jamaicans (except as MP). NatSec minister isn't even vetted/approved by MPs.

Then there's Jamaica's populist policy of appointing commissioners who've been through the ranks. Contrast this with NYC's model where the police commissioner and deputies act as civilian administrators. We only need to recall Commissioner Quallo's apparent reluctance to finger anybody for the Palisadoes debacle to understand Jamaica's folly.

Quallo, bless his diplomatic heart, announced he's retiring in August. I strongly recommend government commence immediately to identify replacement candidates from outside the JCF. Meanwhile, all concerned should stop the counter-productive squabbling and allow Commissioner Quallo, who didn't appoint himself, to complete his tour of duty in peace.

All this highlights the dangerous antipathy to democracy produced by Jamaica's awkward adaptation of Westminster, resulting in PM as de facto monarch unaccountable to Jamaicans. It stifles confidence and promotes a jobs-for-the-boys mentality that ensures TOO MANY PEOPLE's noses are stuck into intelligence-sensitive national-security issues.

So, we must begin at the beginning. There'll be no national prosperity; no national progress; no professional JCF; no effective national crime strategy without radical constitutional reconstruction.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.