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Cold case freeze - Thousands of unsolved murders are decades old - Retired cop says police talented, but have no time

Published:Monday | February 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Nearly a third of the more than 40,000 homicides committed in Jamaica since 1970 have gone cold, and files are languishing on the shelves of some police department with only the pathologist report on the cause of death, a retired police officer told The Gleaner.

"Listen, don't let what the police say fool you. You think anybody investigating Tess Thomas' death. You think anybody investigating your colleague Vincent Tulloch's murder?" asked the now a retired cop, considered one of the finest before he was promoted to desk work.

"Jamaica is a criminal's dream. The probability of being caught, tried and sentenced to death is zilch. That's why the police kill them," he said, giving life to allegations of rogue cops who are part of death squads in the police force - a claim denied by Police Commissioner Owen Ellington.

The retired cop said deceased families will also die without seeing someone punished for their loved ones' death.

Teresa 'Tess' Thomas was a well-known consumer advocate in the 1990s. She was shot and killed at her Maryland, St Andrew, home in January 1999. Fourteen years later, her murder is unsolved.

Vincent Tulloch was news editor at the now-defunct Jamaica Record. He was found dead at his Calabar Mews, St Andrew, home in September 1994. Police reports said his body bore more than 40 stab wounds. The case remains unsolved.

According to the retired cop, "If the police tell you they are investigating them, they are bulls......g you." He acknowledged that the police today "have the talent but can hardly find the time as crime is like the breath you take. It's ever present. It's everywhere."

Respected Senior Superin-tendent Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford - a veteran police officer with nearly 40 years' experience - said the police are much better equipped today than they were 10 years ago "to both fight and solve crime".

"Yes, we have a lot of cases that have gone cold, but the police can only go where the investigations take them," said Ford last week.

He said the force has been examining best practices and making adjustments wherever possible.

"You do that, and then look at the people who are committed. The police force is no different from a school where everybody receives the same teaching but some leave with 10 subjects, some leave with five and some leave with one. It's about commitment. And in any profession, commitment is why some people do much better than others," he suggested.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) now boasts increasing percentages of lower ranks with university degrees, and he said commitment was the reason "some policing divisions also did better than others".

However, he disagreed that time was an issue.

"We have a lot of crime. It's everywhere. By the time you start with one, there is another one, and another, and then, the society decides that this one must receive priority over this one. But all my cases are priority," he said flatly.

At any time, 30-40 police officers drawn from different units work murder cases.

He blamed communities for being "the biggest deterrent to the police's ability to solve crime as "they protect the criminals because of fear or for gains."

Criminals leave Jamaica "by boat to The Bahamas or to Mexico and the police often get to a dead end," Ford said.

Former Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields agreed that the police are better equipped.

"We have truly come a long way. But there are still some fundamental investigative flaws, and not many senior officers place enough emphasis on investigation. The emphasis always seems to be on operations. And that tells us there is still some way to go," said Shields, who was one of the first batch of British police officers brought to Jamaica in 2005 to assist with transforming the JCF.