Mon | May 20, 2019

Mobile Reserve painted as bad boys of force

Published:Friday | May 3, 2019 | 12:33 AM
Terrence Bent
Terrence Bent

Birthed in the year Jamaica got independence as a strike force to deal with riots and public disorder, the Mobile Reserve, which has been under the microscope of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) for years, is taking its last breath as the Government moves to pull the plug on the controversial 57-year-old police unit.

This is part of the Holness administration’s efforts to overhaul the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Yesterday, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang announced that Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke has been given the task of winding up the Mobile Reserve and develop a framework for a “new, vetted, specialised operations organisation, properly trained and equipped to respond to current and future threats”.

Career senior cop Terrence Bent, who is in charge of Mobile Reserve, was yesterday sent on leave to facilitate investigations at the unit.

Responding to the policy move to wind up the elite unit, Opposition Spokesman on National Security Fitz Jackson questioned why Chang had not made this announcement in his recent contribution to the Sectoral Debate. He argued that it was not “unreasonable to draw the inference that this latest announcement is a knee-jerk reaction being presented as a decision-making process in the command structure of the Jamaica Constabulary Force”.

DEADLY GUNFIGHT

The dramatic events last Saturday night that saw three policemen assigned to Mobile Reserve allegedly killing a St Catherine businessman and subsequently pursued by an off-duty cop in a high-speed chase and blazing gun battle, appear to be the tipping point for the unit that came in for criticism in the 2015-16 commission of enquiry into the operation by the security forces in Tivoli Gardens. The Sir David Simmons-chaired enquiry said that elements of the Mobile Reserve featured prominently among those accused of extrajudicial killings. The operation left 68 civilians and one soldier dead.

Sunday’s bloody drama involving a so-called hero cop and three alleged rogue policemen has left one lawman, Rohan Williams, dead; one in custody, yet to be identified; and another still at large. A civilian, Kevron Burrell, was also shot dead.

On Thursday, the on-the-run cop, Kirk Frazer, claimed in a TVJ interview that he and his Mobile Reserve colleagues were chasing the killers of Daley but were attacked by the off-duty cop and other men.

“For some time, INDECOM has been making complaints about how Mobile Reserve operates and, indeed, the poor operational management of Mobile Reserve was a feature of the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry,” Terrence Williams, commissioner of INDECOM, said yesterday in an interview with ‘Hotline’s’ Emily Shields.

The head of the police oversight body said that INDECOM had recommended in 2016 that the gazetted officers of the Mobile Reserve be removed and replaced by Jamaica Defence Force officers to bring appropriate leadership to the unit.

“We made a report to Parliament where we showed that there was an inordinate number of Mobile Reserve fatalities from their planned operations and that once you had a military unit involved in the operation, the fatalities went towards zero,” Williams said.

The enquiry report recommended that the Mobile Reserve be subjected to “special external oversight arrangements”.

It further suggested that the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) be tasked with developing a proposal on how best to configure such oversight.

Anthony Harriott, former chairman of the PCOA, told The Gleaner yesterday that the agency did not receive any policy directive from the Government to craft a proposal to provide oversight for the Mobile Reserve.

Simmons recommended that the Mobile Reserve’s systems of internal accountability also be reviewed by the Inspectorate of the Constabulary and the PCOA either in partnership or as separate and independent reviews.

But the scrapping of the Mobile Reserve is just the tip of the icerberg in the Government’s thrust to implement sweeping changes to the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson will shortly roll out sweeping changes to the management of the force, Chang announced yesterday.

At the same time, Jackson has said that in light of what he termed as conflicting statements made by Anderson and Chang on the shooting incident in Chedwin Park, St Catherine, a prompt, independent enquiry was required to restore public confidence in the constabulary.

He said also that this level of investigation “cannot be left to any reassigned JCF officer because in this sensitive matter, the JCF should not be allowed to investigate itself”.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com