Who can force the force to change?
Ronald Mason, GUEST COLUMNIST
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is back in the news in a roundabout manner. JCF is, through the Police Service Commission, in the process of replacing Commissioner Owen Ellington. He was generally credited with making changes to the perception of integrity to the rank and file members of the force, yet he was found wanting by outsiders, non-Jamaicans, and has had to leave the position.
The reasons have never been explicitly stated, but the inference, rightly or wrongly, is left that he might have 'facilitated' a death squad in the force to operate without restraint. What is important for this purpose is to acknowledge that when Commissioner Ellington was appointed to the top job, he came to the badge of promotion from within as an acceptable leader. This was not enough to extend his tenure. He is gone because of the outside power brokers. Independent?
The job of commissioner of police had been advertised around the world and it contained no restrictions as to only elicit response from existing members of the JCF.
The Government of Jamaica recognises dual citizenship. We are allowed to hold two valid passports at the same time, with the proviso that we are not permitted to seek to use one to oppose the interest of the other. You are subject to the dictates of the laws and regulations applicable in the country of your physical presence at any specific time.
Rattigan's 'information campaign'
Mr Wilfred Rattigan, by public acknowledgement, did apply for the position as commissioner. He has not been shortlisted and has begun an "information campaign" to make his objection known. The Police Service Commission has the absolute right to choose whom it will. We are not privileged to have access to the qualification, attributes, skill set, etc., that have been established for the job.
The Police Service Commission has no obligation to defend its action. Mr Rattigan must accept that. He must understand that what he has to offer has not met the standard. However, he has caused one to give thought to the value of an outsider being commissioner of police. There is no restriction that I have been able to find to suggest that the commissioner must be solely of Jamaican citizenship. In the past, the JCF has had non-Jamaican English citizens as heads. As an aside, if the electoral process requires sole Jamaican citizenship, then should the JCF not require, by law, the same standard?
It is mostly of conjecture that the immediate past commissioner, an insider, vetted and found acceptable widely credited to have been an agent of reform, was eventually found to have lost the confidence of our benefactors and had to be removed. Who, then, of the supposedly shortlisted six would be safe to aspire to complete a full term as commissioner? What will these six, all cut from the same cloth, bring that would satisfy the benefactors, who have such a large say in our internal affairs? Does this not give cause for considering the possibilities of an outsider?
The outsider must be seen to meet all the objective criteria and standards, but would bring the added ability of being independent. It has been the history of partisans being appointed as Commissioner. Basil Robinson, Joe Williams, Lucius Thomas and the late Trevor MacMillan come to mind. An outsider may not come with that baggage.
I am well aware that we send our top officers around the world for training. The front-runner for the job, Carl Williams, has benefited from such, but he is of the force and from the force. Where is the likelihood of significant reform? The choice of the female candidate among the shortlisted would signal for the first time a woman being chosen to lead the force. Would she be able to facilitate the well-needed transformation from 'force' to service?
There is an urgent need for improvements to the JCF, and the era of a new commissioner may be the opportune time to make that a primary mandate of the top cop. We watch and wait.
JCF public scrutiny
The JCF came in for some more public scrutiny this past week when the diaspora had a demonstration in the New York area regarding the murder of Mario Deane. This could be unsettling for not only the police, but the country. Demonstrations coupled with signed petitions bring with them an invitation for the foreign press to investigate. Press investigations to expose, ridicule and portray in a bad light cannot be positive.
At home, we seldom get serious, in-depth press investigations that ultimately lead to action. We are a nine-day-wonder country. Rarely do we force the culpable to resign. This new development of foreign scrutiny could change that. This is despite the lack of attention to the investigation by Mattathias Schwartz regarding the Tivoli incursion.
Putting the JCF and, by extension, Jamaica under the spotlight by the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post et al will affect us in the wallet.