EDITORIAL - Making straw menof JCF 'imports'

Published: Monday | November 9, 2009

Occasionally, the measure of the performance of a manager is not the profit he immediately returns for the company, but the losses he prevents. The firm he inherits may be that bad.

This is the perspective from which we view the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Britons who, in recent years, were appointed to its senior ranks to help to overhaul the organisation.

It has become something of a national sport to suggest, cynically, that Jamaicans, including those who seriously thought about the issues, who welcomed Mark Shields, Les Green and Justin Felice, saw them as magicians who would mystically reform the constabulary. They seem to receive chest-thumping joy from being able to point to the mess that is still the JCF, and to feel vindicated that the imports made no difference.

Deep corruption

We, of course, beg to differ. The sport is wrong and the conclusions are wrong. And you can judge by how many members of the JCF would like to see the backs of the Britons, have attempted to undermine their efforts, and, in some cases, have actively lobbied for them to go. Recent anger at Assistant Commissioner Green for his remarks that some murdered police officers were linked to criminality had as much to do, we suspect, with Mr Green coming too close to the truth, as with concerns about insensitivity or absence of proof.

If there was an error on the part of the police 'imports' and those who recruited them, as was a fortnight ago conceded by Mr Shields who recently left the JCF, it was to misapprehend how deeply corrupt and corroded the organisation has become. Indeed, Mr Shields now harbours doubts that the JCF can be repaired from within - a sentiment that is valid but one which we do not, at this time, fully embrace.

The clear implication, therefore, is that rebuilding the JCF into an effective crime-prevention and law-enforcement organisation in which Jamaicans have trust will demand hard, systematic work and strong leadership. This brings us back to where we started and the achievements of the Britons.

Seeking a better way

A better way than to build straw-men magicians and snicker about the supposed failure is to appreciate that the situation might have been decidedly worse, but for the efforts of people like Green, Felice and Shields, in seriously reacquainting the JCF with basic policing techniques after decades of operating as a jack-booted paramilitary institution, re-enforced by a Suppression of Crime Act.

While there remains much to be done, their efforts are obvious in greatly enhanced scenes-of-crime investigation, concerted efforts against corruption, greater levels of accountability, attempts to inculcate respect for human rights - plainly, and better operational and management systems.

We do not suggest that ACP Green et al were solely responsible for this first tranche of achievements, which remains fragile, or that there are no Jamaicans in the ranks capable of similar capacities. The truth, though, is that even the good cops are often ensnared by the JCF's corrosive culture - even when they remain personally untarnished. There is the fear of breaking or breaking out of the code of the brotherhood - the so-called 'squaddie' mentality.

The bottom line is that Messrs Green, Felice and the others who advise them are not beholden to this culture. It would serve the incoming police chief well to recognise and embrace the value of their presence and to make full use of their talents.

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