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Editorial: Terrence Williams’ new term at INDECOM

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We appreciate the cross-party consensus that facilitated Governor General Sir Patrick Allen's reappointment of Terrence Williams, for a second five-year term, as head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that probes alleged abuse of power by the security forces.

The decision, at face value, represents a pushback against a coterie in the police force, and a handful of others, who would like to see the back of Mr Williams and the collapse of INDECOM, or its survival with severely diminished powers. It would be, however, unwise to assume that the assault on INDECOM is over, or that those in its vanguard are only populists like the alliteration-minded governing party politician, Damion Crawford. Even normally sober and thoughtful people have adopted some strange and potentially dangerous positions in relation to INDECOM.

The basis of our support for INDECOM is clear: it has performed. Prior to the establishment of the agency, it was conventional wisdom that the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force behaved with impunity. Police homicides, on average, were nearly 200 per year and very few people had faith in how the police investigated these killings, or other presumed acts of misbehaviour by their colleagues. Half-heartedly established quasi-independent investigative bodies lacked public confidence or, we believe, the respect of the constabulary. They achieved little.

Two things are different about INDECOM. It has substantial powers, including the right of arrest and prosecution, and it has Terrence Williams, who has not been afraid to test, in the courts, the breadth of those powers. He is also transparent about the efforts and aims of INDECOM.

It is not coincidental, we believe, that police homicides have nearly halved and that police personnel often complain about the powers of the agency, in a bid for it to be subject to new forms of oversight, other than that which Parliament, under whose auspices it operates, is supposed to provide.

Indeed, Peter Bunting, the national security minister who, understandably, wants to keep the police onside, has campaigned for some form of board, to which Mr Williams would have a reporting arrangement. He has the support of the justice minister, Mark Golding. Their proposal, though, remains murky, but, we fear, dangerous. For it could very well be, as they say, the thin edge of the wedge towards diminishing the independence of INDECOM. If Parliament is failing in its obligation to monitor INDECOM, it should improve.

Where the effort and energy should be expended is in establishing a civilian body to monitor the strategic and operational management of the police force, which now receives broad policy direction from the minister. The Police Service Commission (PSC) is concerned only with matters of employment and discipline in the constabulary.

A civilian body, that was more facilitatory of inspection, was once in place and seemed to be a foundation on which something more substantive could be built. But it was disbanded four years ago, ostensibly as part of a planned reform of the PSC. Unlike with the plan for INDECOM, everyone seems to have gone quiet on that proposal.