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Editorial: Standing with the police

Published:Wednesday | July 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Judging by the prima facie evidence, Carl Williams, the police chief, may be right about members of the constabulary, especially those working in western Kingston, being under a systematic assault from criminals. If that is the case, the fight is not only the police's; it belongs to all Jamaicans.

Just over a week ago, female constable, Crystal Thomas, who was assigned to the Denham Town Police Station, was singled out among passengers on a public transport bus that was being robbed by criminals and brutally shot dead. The publicly known circumstances of the murder give this newspaper cause to doubt that the supposed robbers arbitrarily chose that specific bus and merely stumbled on the fact that Ms Thomas was a constable, even if it may appear that her valiant effort at self-defence may have alerted them that she was a police officer. While the timing of the assault and its victim may have been opportunistic, it is probable that the west Kingston cops were indeed targeted and that Constable Thomas just happened to have unwittingly presented herself.

Then on Tuesday night, Lindel Barrett, a policeman who also worked at Denham Town, was walking on a road near to his station when he was ambushed by unknown assailants. He was obviously targeted. Mr Barrett and Ms Thomas became the third and fourth members of the constabulary to be killed while on duty so far this year - three of them in the month of July.

There is, we believe, relevant context to the cop killings in west Kingston. The Denham Town station is adjacent to Tivoli Gardens, from where security forces in 2010 dislodged the gangster and politically connected community strongman, Christopher Coke. Extradited to the United States, Coke is now serving time in an American jail for drug and gunrunning. Five years on, there is, it seems, an intra-gang/family feud between would-be inheritors of Coke's mantle as don and crime boss. The police have come up hard against the combatants.


damning consequences

It matters little if these perceived willful assaults on the police come from criminals other than those directly involved in the west Kingston skirmishes. From whoever it comes, its impact on the police and the consequences for Jamaica would be no different.

Targeting of the constabulary represents an attack on the Jamaican State, among whose primary roles is the provision of security for its citizens. In high-crime Jamaica, where more than 1,000 people are murdered each year and the homicide rate is nearly 40 per 100,000, the police are a critical buffer between law-abiding citizens and the criminals. Should their will be broken, the criminals would be closer to ascendancy and the rest of us in peril.

In the circumstances, it is important that there be a strong partnership between the police and good citizens against the criminals. Decent Jamaicans, who comprise the vast majority, must not only isolate criminals in their communities, but share with the constabulary information about their actions.

The basis of this kind of relationship is trust, which the police, despite their ongoing efforts, must continue to work hard to gain and deepen. In this regard, Commissioner Williams has to ensure that he manages a constabulary that is professional; that eschews arbitrariness and is respectful of the rights of all - even those suspected of heinous crimes such as those against constables Thomas and Barrett.