Sat | Apr 17, 2021

SOE BACKLASH - Retired chiefs slam policing strategy

Published:Thursday | February 11, 2021 | 5:58 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Retired police chief Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin.
Retired police chief Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin.
Owen Ellington, former commissioner of police.
Owen Ellington, former commissioner of police.
Novelette Grant, retired deputy police commissioner.
Novelette Grant, retired deputy police commissioner.
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In an emphatic repudiation of Jamaica’s crime-fighting strategy, three retired police commanders have criticised the sustained use of states of emergency (SOEs) as ineffective. The dour assessment was a sweeping rejection of a key weapon in the...

In an emphatic repudiation of Jamaica’s crime-fighting strategy, three retired police commanders have criticised the sustained use of states of emergency (SOEs) as ineffective.

The dour assessment was a sweeping rejection of a key weapon in the arsenal of the Holness administration, which has toyed with the prospect of extending the measure for up to seven years.

“I am concerned that none of us here in this conversation can actually point to the key elements for a national policing strategy or national crime-fighting strategy,” Owen Ellington, who was head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force from 2009-2014, said at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.

“I think that our politicians should be able to demand that from the heads of the security forces, and that is what they would support with budget and with new legislation.”

The Government has boasted of unprecedented investment in shoring up the country’s national security infrastructure, with $40 billion over the last four years.

Ellington cautioned that Jamaicans were primarily focused on police performance in staunching murder, not the philosophy of nuts-and-bolts modernisation.

“The concern is about bringing down the murders, bringing down the shootings, stopping the robberies, and the extortions,” Ellington said.

Novelette Grant, who served as deputy commissioner from 2014 to 2018 and had an acting stint as commissioner, said that the zone of special operations – an initiative aimed at complementing hard-booted policing with social intervention – had failed in communicating the breadth of its scope and executing cultural change.

“Nobody understands really. What does that look like? What does that creature look like? How do we know that we are having social intervention?” she said

Ellington said that the ongoing debate on the use of emergency powers was clear evidence of a policy breakdown “between the operation side and the policy side”.

“So before we even start talking about request for another SOE, we need to see what the policing strategy is,” Ellington said.

SOEs had been imposed in 10 of 19 police divisions up to August 2020 when the order was lifted weeks before the hosting of a general election on September 3.

Murders and shootings had fallen in the majority of those divisions, but they had limited cumulative effect on overall killings, with the country recording around a two per cent decline last year.

Lewin has been a long-time critic of sustained SOEs and reminded the forum of a 2018 letter to The Gleaner, penned by him, in which he warned that the strategy could turn into a farce.

He lamented that the policy initiatives of crime fighting were not fully in sync with operational execution on the ground.

The former army chief, who served as police commissioner from 2007 to 2008, said that policing strategy should be distilled to the divisional level.

“The policing plans basically sets out how is it that the police intends to deliver policing services to communities,” said Lewin.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com