THE JAMAICA Constabulary Force represents a substantial bloc of potential votes, which the big-policies parties try hard to please and before which they tend to genuflect, if not grovel.
For a long time, the police played this influence to the hilt; they frustrated efforts to hold them to account and to lessen their ability to behave with impunity.
In recent years, there has been a breach of that resistance, exemplified especially by the creation of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the body that investigates citizens' complaints of abuse by members of the security forces.
But old bad habits don't die easily, as the Police Federation, the union of rank-and-file cops, is now showing in what this newspaper can only interpret as an effort to undermine INDECOM and to blackmail the country into acquiescence.
With their country, at over 40 per 100,000, having one of the world's highest homicide rates, Jamaicans are concerned about crime. The police know this. They talk about it a lot.
MUCH TALK, LITTLE EFFECTIVENESS
What the constabulary has not been particularly good at, however, is solving crime. Of the more than 1,000 murders that are committed in Jamaica annually, less than a third are cleared up, in that the police identify a clear suspect.
Specific figures are not available, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that of those cases for which there are suspects, only a handful ever reach the courts, where the conviction rate is not impressive.
Police homicides in Jamaica are, however, by international standards, high. Annually, on average, the police kill well over 200 citizens, most of whom are reported to have engaged them in firefights.
Until the advent of INDECOM, Jamaicans were not confident that police homicides were adequately investigated. But the Police Federation doesn't like the rigour with which INDECOM goes about its job.
Nor is it enamoured with recent court decisions affirming the right of INDECOM to arrest and charge police officers in cases where it has the right to investigate, as the authority of INDECOM over crime scenes in circumstances where police officers might be suspects. The police are unhappy, too, with a court declaration that the police, without reasonable suspicion, stop and search motorists.
The upshot of all this is last week's rant by Raymond Wilson, the chairman of the Police Federation, about a lowering of morale among so-called front-line crime fighters, and how these recent court decisions have supposedly emboldened criminals.
FEAR OF PROSECUTION
According to Mr Wilson, police, for fear of prosecution when they engage criminals, are tentative on the job. Criminals are, therefore, behaving with impunity and moving weapons across the island.
The implied statement: Jamaicans should become more fearful of criminals and, therefore, support the Police Federation's call for fixing the supposed "flaws in the INDECOM Act that are depriving police officers of their constitutional rights".
The Police Federation may have a case in arguing for government support for a legal defence fund for police officers who may face charges for acts committed on the job.
At the same time, the police have no authority, at any time, to behave with impunity. Indeed, the constabulary should welcome the rigorous oversight of INDECOM. If Jamaicans believe that the constabulary is accountable, it will not only enhance its credibility, but the community's consent to be policed. The effect on crime will be positive.
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