Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writier
Justices of the Peace (JP) were on Saturday given a reminder of the pivotal oversight role they must play in ensuring justice for all, by balancing the rights of citizens against the powers of arrest enjoyed by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and its auxiliaries.
"Part of our social contract is that the police must have a monopoly in the use of force. The consideration for this is that they must be seen to use force fairly and justifiably. Where they do not, there must be the needed correction," Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) said.
Williams made the statement as he addressed the St Andrew Justices of the Peace and Lay Magistrates' Association's annual awards dinner at Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston.
The INDECOM boss warned JPs not to rubber-stamp search warrants for the police but must, instead, act as a filter to prevent unreasonable searches and arrests.
"It is not enough that the JP truly believes that the constable suspects but, importantly, the JP must, by being told the allegations and circumstances, also find that there are grounds for the suspicion. The JP cannot be heard to say: 'Crime is high (so) I will give the police a free ride.' Such an attitude would be a betrayal of the office and the public trust," Williams charged.
Pointing to an emerging trend to reduce pre-action oversight by empowering the police to arrest and search without a warrant from a JP, he noted that this may be sometimes quite understandable given the urgency of the situation. However, he cautioned against the dangers of stripping away oversight for expediency.
The INDECOM head, who was speaking on the subject 'Strong Oversight Strengthens the Police', used the occasion to also appeal to the police to recognise that addressing Jamaica's growing crime wave will require an effective police force and supportive citizenry.
Difficult and Dangerous
Acknowledging that a constable's job in Jamaica is difficult and dangerous, Williams said the hazards and difficulty are exacerbated when they do not receive public support.
He said, however, that the price to be paid for an effective police force cannot be acquiescence with outlawry by hindering the detection of misconduct.
"What is needed instead is a professional police force which takes into account that an important part of professionalism is true accountability," Williams said.
He added: "Faith in those whom we have entrusted a monopoly in the use of force can only come with the confidence that they are acting properly. A miscarriage of justice is not a case where a policeman was acquitted by a jury, but one where the real issues surrounding the propriety of his actions were not considered by a jury because of the institutionalised practices that did not apply to the ordinary citizen."
Noting that the way forward must see Jamaica taking ownership of the collective ideal of peace and justice, Williams also turned the spotlight on his organisation, saying that public institutions charged with leadership in peace and justice should not blame the public for failing to support them, since most Jamaicans really want peace and justice.
"All agencies and authorities of oversight must be vigilant that the police meet the high standards that they have set for themselves," Williams said.