Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Serious tasks ahead for the new commissioner

Published:Thursday | September 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The reduction of crime and violence hinges on, among other things, good policing, and an efficient justice system. Dr Carl Williams, the commissioner of police-designate, therefore, has a daunting task of addressing a number of issues among his staff, such as corruption, use of force, brutality, detention practices, and stop and search, among others.

Policing is an important element in stemming the tide of crime and violence in our community. According to the Jamaica Information Service, "The new commissioner will be mandated to continue the process of professionalisation of the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) with special emphasis on respecting the human rights of citizens."

Luckily for Williams, his predecessor, Owen Ellington, made a very good attempt. The JCF statistics show murders, shootings and other major crimes have been trending downward since 2010. However, despite this trajectory, the Gleaner/Bill Johnson and the Don Anderson polls since 2004 show crime and violence continue to be a major problem for many Jamaicans.

Insecurity is widespread and it is incumbent on the new commissioner to continue the implementation of key reform efforts to help make our commu-nities safer. The 2012-2013 Jamaica National Crime and Victimization Survey (JNCVS), which was administered among 3,556 persons, is particularly instructive in how he proceeds.

FLEEING COMMUNITIES

Twelve per cent of the respondents had moved out of their communities in the past 12 months (at the time of the survey) because of crime and violence. Not surprisingly, it states that "moving to escape crime and violence is much more prevalent in some parishes - especially Kingston, St Andrew and St James - than other areas of the country" since they are among the most murderous.

Over the last few years, Jamaicans' perception of the police's performance has improved. In 2009, only 26.6 per cent of respondents felt that the police were doing a good job to enforce the law, and in the last JNCVS, this rose to 33.7 per cent. In addition, three out of every four Jamaicans who responded believed the police treat poor people worse than wealthy people, two-thirds believe young people are treated worse than older people, and two-thirds also believe women get better treatment than men.

Although perceptions of police corruption have declined significantly between 2006 and 2013, the public continue to be concerned about it, though many respondents did not directly experience or witness corruption. In the 2006 survey, 71.2 per cent of survey respondents felt that police corruption was a 'big' or 'very big' problem, but this declined to 57.3 per cent by 2012-2013. Perception of corruption is still very high. In fact, Jamaicans believe police corruption is a much bigger problem that police harassment and brutality.

BUILDING TRUST

The 2012 Human Develop-ment Report (on Citizen Security) argues that "The public's perceptions of the police are crucial in the transition to citizen security. The police must be viewed as possessing the legitimate authority to uphold and enforce the laws and the rights of citizens, as well as the competence to fulfil these duties in a way that is fair, appropriate and respectful. If citizens view police in this light, they will be more likely to cooperate with the police and participate in crime prevention and control efforts."

Finally, Williams will also have to concern himself with the function of the courts as much as the police force, if he wants to be as successful. Only 15.5 per cent think the courts are doing a good job helping crime victims, 15.5 per cent think the courts are doing a good job providing justice quickly, and only 17.0% think the courts are doing a good job ensuring fair trials. He will have to become an advocate for justice reform and increase funding allocations to the courts.

I expect the commissioner-designate's "track record of innovation and performance" (JIS) will prove useful in this new position.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.