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End to impunity - Police must get used to robust oversight, declares INDECOM boss

Published:Thursday | July 14, 2016 | 7:15 AMEdmond Campbell
Williams: An officer cannot say, ‘I am not going to do my job because of an oversight body’ because that would be unheard of in any other profession.

Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Terrence Williams has sent a direct message to members of the force he says have become "accustomed to impunity": those days have come to an end.

The INDECOM boss was responding to a concern from Member of Parliament for South Manchester Michael Stewart who claimed that "word on the street is that a lot of police officers are not pursuing their cases diligently" because of the big stick being wielded by the police oversight body.

Stewart, who is a member of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament, suggested that many members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have become "afraid to carry out their duties" and as such more civilians are being killed by criminals.

The first-time MP noted that INDECOM has taken credit for a 50 per cent reduction in the incidents of police killings from 200 annually, for the previous 10 years, to 100 per annum over the last three years.

However, Williams and his team, who were appearing before the parliamentary committee yesterday, argued that police personnel who have become accustomed to bad practices are going to be uncomfortable with robust oversight.

He said the question of police personnel not doing their jobs because of the work of an oversight body must be placed squarely before the leadership of the JCF.

"An officer cannot say, 'I am not going to do my job because of an oversight body' because that would be unheard of in any other profession.

"It is for police leadership to ensure that they say to their members 'Parliament has said this is the law of the land; you are going to have this oversight'," Williams declared.

The INDECOM commissioner said the more than centuries-old police force had become accustomed to doing things a particular way.

He argued that, before the establishment of INDECOM, the JCF had a monopoly on the processing of a (crime) scene, the collection of statements and charging persons for violating the law.

He said that when the oversight body started its work some police groups expressed the view that INDECOM would be short-lived, giving a "false hope to members that it was going to be a short window and an experiment that was going to come to an end so they probably thought, 'let us wait it out; it's going to come to an end'."

However, Williams noted that many of the issues that once caused strained relations between the JCF and INDECOM were now being addressed through a memorandum of understanding between both organisations.

He said an official signing ceremony is to take place shortly between the leadership of the oversight body and the Police High Command.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com