Wed | May 22, 2019

Mark Wignall | Miles away from trusting police

Published:Sunday | November 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Mark Shields, former deputy commissioner of police, delivers the keynote address at the 14th Annual CIN Lecture Series on Wednesday, October 24, in New York.

When a citizen exercises his right and goes out on a limb to actively support the police by telling what he knows about crime and then is threatened by insiders, it signals that many people are justified in 'see and blind, hear and deaf'.

The message to me more than a week ago was plainly stated and richly tinged with fear.

'Good day, Mark. ... In a nutshell, I provided sensitive information to a high-ranking police officer who outed me to the same people. Now I live in fear. Have since made statement to MOCA. List goes on. Kindly call me so we could set up a meeting. My number is xxx. Thanks and can't go into much. Don't trust my phone.'

Every new person elevated to the post of national security minister or, more likely, sent there to die a thousand ministerial deaths, has to regurgitate the same inauguration message. Crime is not simply a job that only the policeman must deal with. It includes all of us, and it necessitates a wholesale rejection of the 'informer fi dead' culture.

I do not need a poll to tell me that most Jamaicans do not trust the police because too many of them are associated with key members of the criminal underworld. It is simply a matter of power joined at the hips to protect those who operate outside of the shackles of the law.

In much the same way that an MP would make the link with senior rogue policemen, and the community don controlling the most guns in the constituency, so do most of those who always operate outside of the law seek to sanitise themselves by cultivating closer contact with those in the formal economy at the top who ostensibly support law and order. Mostly in secret.

In time, the underground relies on its silent link with the formal security apparatus because the objectives are similar. Get rich and live well doing so.


Support for extra-judicial kilings


In the 'Chucky Brown' case now making its way through the courts, some of the allegations that senior policemen sanctioned the execution of those deemed criminals have been greeted with vocal support at street level.

"If di policeman know seh di man is a big raper and murderer, and every time dem tek him in, him get weh off a di charge, is wah di policeman fi do? Just mek him gwaan pon a rampage? Dat fi dead and dem policeman dem is hero," one painter in his 50s told me recently.

"But what if one a di policeman have something personal with another man? Like di man a fool wid him girl and him go kill di man, plant gun pon him, and seh is gunman dead inna shootout. How yu look at that?" I asked him.

His response was typically Jamaican. "Sensible man fi know seh yu leave policeman gal alone."

In multiple conversations I have had over many years with policemen at all levels, it is the rare officer in the JCF who does not, in moments of candour and with the knowledge that his name will not be called, tell me that hit squads are quite the necessity in these times.

"Sometimes our boys know what they must do. Walk out in civilian clothes and have your evidence prepared," said a long-time police friend of mine. By evidence, he meant guns to be planted in 'shootouts'. This, of course, is old hat in Jamaica and must be known by everyone, from the prime minister down to the hustler working 15-hour days at Riverton City.

I have also spoken with eyewitnesses to 'shootouts' who describe well-known policemen removing guns from the engine compartment of their vehicles and then placing them beside the dead and still-warm bodies of 'gunmen'.

"You know the sad thing," said a retired inspector of police to me two weeks ago. 'Most of the times we target the right people, meaning it's actual gunmen we going after. The only thing that is misrepresented to the public is that we engaged them or 'challenged' them. Why should we waste time with that when the boy kill a [sic] old woman last week?"


Are police merely a reflection of society?


In providing a ready-made 'yes' in response to the question, 'Are the police a mirror image of society?', we miss the possibility of exploring whether the structure and the culture of the JCF is not conducive to corrupting decent members newly graduated from the police academy.

Frankly, I believe it is about half and half. Our society is a daily hodgepodge of 'Anancyism', that word derived from a folk hero who never existed but which perfectly captures our abilities to trick our way through the system by corrupt behaviour.

One superspy, operating in 1990s as a special unit empowered by a few at the top of the JCF, illegally placed bugs on phone conversations of known thugs, druggists, and dons. In doing that, he captured quite a number of taped conversations that included well-known politicians and policemen communicating with them.


Criminal and political collaboration


I read a number of the transcripts, but not hearing the tapes, I fell far short of full confirmation. Reading from the transcripts, though, I saw how criminal dons with notional and activist associations with the PNP and JLP collaborated with each other in the local drug cartels that were spawned from the trans-shipment of cocaine from Colombia, Jamaica, or the US mainland.

It is my understanding that those taped conversations still exist. The entity or powerful individual who has those tapes must be now wielding enormous power and influence in this country. As an aside, at one stage, the tapes even intersected with a drug dealer operating in The Bahamas.

At a time not far back, that drug dealer was locked up at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, and although I was told by his legal connections that I would be given the authority to speak with him, those guarding the gates simply told me I would not be allowed in.

It doesn't take much of a long flight from allegation to reality to appreciate that some senior members of the JCF are up to their neck in corruption while corporals and constables front for them.

I have been to many police stations across this country, and at times, it seems that the most active area is the bar to the side or back of the stations. To be fair to the JCF, there may be more than a tinge of hyperbole attached to that because most of my visits include only short times in the spec's or supe's office and a longer time in the bar afterwards.

Some years ago, there was an attempt at extortion on a businesswoman operating uptown. The thugs who attempted the extortion were from a breakaway group downtown that was then attempting a coup on a certain don.

The lady refused to bow and she was unfortunately murdered. A 'specialist' in the JCF eventually tracked down the killer/s and, in turn, gunned them down in a 'shootout'. The family of the deceased, in showing appreciation, presented the 'specialist' with funds that ran in the millions.

Were I a rotten-rich individual and someone killed my wife or any other member of my family over an extortion attempt, would I dip deep into my pockets to give the policeman who killed the extortionist, say, $2 million or $5 million?

What do you think I would do? And what would you do? Unfortunately, life is never as simple as a straight-line graph. Living in Jamaica makes one ill prepared for straight-line graph existence.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and