Sun | Jul 12, 2020

Mark Wignall | I had to leave the JCF

Published:Thursday | November 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Detective constable 'John Smith' had seen the constant deterioration over the years, but was prepared to stick it out and do his job within the parameters of serve, protect, and reassure.

"In the latter part of my stay with the police force, I used whatever study leave time was available to me and did a first degree in a field heavy on forensics. I have friends that started with me that are now SSPs, but maybe I didn't have the qualities for what those higher ranks demanded."

Constable Smith now resides abroad with his wife and two university-aged children. "My wife and the kids were abroad long before me, and I missed them terribly. Because of that, there were certain aspects of the JCF's (Jamaica Constabulary Force) institutional behaviour that I saw clearer and that stood out in sharp contrast to what was taught out at training school, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable remaining there as a policeman."

Smith left the force about three years ago. He tells me of one part of the general attitude among senior policemen. "It was probably about 2013 or 2014, and there was a sharp spike in police killing of civilians, you know, in the usual shootout story.

"They were gathered in a hall outside of an office. Senior men, along with a sizable contingent of new graduates. A senior policeman began as cheerleader: 'So, squaddies onnu know sey is bird season now. Corn haffi throw and boy haffi pick up corn,' he was saying, egging on the men to have no fear of using their guns.

"When I spoke to him privately and told him he was sending wrong signals to the newcomers, he told me that maybe I am in the 'wrong business'."

Smith tells me a shocker about attempts to capture a well-known gunman.

"He had a friend living at a St Andrew address who was not exactly his friend. He had known di yout from childhood days, but once he became wanted and hot, he, basically, forced his company on the young man."

According to Smith, the young man complained to his mother about the friend of his youth, now a wanted man, forcing his and his cronies' presence on him. They made a decision to provide information to the police.

"A lot of planning was put into this operation. On one particular but fateful day, the mother gave us info that the wanted man was there with her son. So were his murderous cronies. We were given exact information on what type and colour clothes her son was wearing. The idea was, we were going to move in on them with force and take out the criminals who we knew were heavily armed." 

The mother and her son were given reassurances of her son's safety. In addition, he had one more year left on his tertiary studies. The arrangement was for the young man to be in a separate room when the raid started.


One innocent dead; a criminal escapes


The police moved in that day, an hour before the mother had been given reassurances that her son would be safe. "One senior policeman told her they did this all the time and there was absolutely no need for her to fear."

As the raid began, the wanted man and his cronies opened fire at the police. "That was expected. In the end, the police killed his cronies and miraculously, the wanted man escaped. The young man whose mother feared for his life was also shot dead. And a gun, was placed alongside his body.

"When I took her to the morgue to view her son's body laid out on a cold slab, even though I had my arms around her, she still fell away to the floor in the bloody water and filth which settled there. I had no easy answers for her."

Smith tells me that he carried out tests on the firearms recovered, but not a single one could tie in to the print of the wanted man. "A few weeks later, we caught up with him in the western end of the island, and many wanted to make sure that any case of shooting and murder we brought against him could stand up to the best defense scrutiny in court."


My senior wants me to cook evidence


Detective Smith's problems were about to get much more problematic. "It was my view that there was enough evidence gathered to put away the gunman for at least 15 years. Then one day, my boss comes to me and tells me that the police need one of the guns recovered from the shootout where the innocent man was killed to be tied to the wanted man."

Smith tells her that it can't be done. He tells her that he is a professional and even though he can understand the need to produce an airtight case, he will not be prepared to cook any evidence.

"At just about that time, I wanted to travel abroad to go and visit my family. I needed to be close to them, and I was especially troubled by the reassurances given to the mother of the young man who had been shot dead by the police. I know it was no accident or mix-up. They fooled me and also the lady."

Smith tells me that his senior had to sign off on a document approving his leave to travel abroad. "I had bought my ticket and told my wife I would be seeing her soon. Then that same day, my boss comes back to me and she tells me that she needs to see, in a completed report, detailed ties of the gun to the wanted man. Again, I tell her no. What, I think to myself, would it do, if a smart defense lawyer sees through it? That will totally blow the case."

The next day, Smith is summoned to his boss' office, where she lays it out quite plain to him: "If I don't get the report I want, I will not approve your leave to travel," his senior tells him.

At that moment, Smith erupts, but only inside. "Nearby was one of those sticky Post-its, and I just took up one and wrote on it a date and 'I hereby resign'." Then he signed his name.


Many good cops are still there


"I don't want to give you the impression that the force is filled to the brim with bad cops. Many are there, and they know who they are, and many times I have to question myself about my long stay in the Jamaica Constabulary Force."

It is extremely sad that good policemen and women are forced to fight from within the JCF to stay properly moored when that cohort should be in the vast majority.

"I decided to get in touch with you after reading you for many years but especially after following the arguments in the Chucky Brown trial.

"I am living abroad now, and to be fair to the JCF, it is the expertise I learned there that prepared me for the work I presently have living abroad. There, I am respected for my skills and I can hardly complain about the pay.

"Many of my friends still left there haffi know di runnings, or they will either be turfed out by powerful officers with ulterior motives or just go through the motions."

At this very moment I have a fairly thick file in front of me involving senior police personnel, a cabal of 'like minded' individuals, a trail of injustice and power beating down those who are damn stupid enough to do the right thing. It involves human trafficking, orgiastic but dangerous frolics, and privately dishonourable men who have been awarded public praise and honour.

This is the inglorious part of my country.