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Editorial | Police must do the small things right

Published:Monday | May 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

George Quallo, the new police chief, is yet to lay out in detail and with clarity how he intends to go about the necessary overhaul of the constabulary to fashion it into a modern, efficient organisation in which Jamaicans can repose trust. Thus far, Mr Quallo has mapped his ideas and plans only in broad strokes.

It is, perhaps, taking a bit of time for the commissioner to shape his big ideas and to establish his priorities. In the meantime, our suggestion to Mr Quallo is that he impress on his officers to get the little things right, including executing their job with fairness and certainty. This includes getting basic facts before they act and being able to argue the logic of their decisions, especially when it comes to arresting and charging people.

The April 23 fracas between the police and patrons of the Kingston Dub Club and the arrest of two persons, including the club's operator, Karlyle Lee, is a case in point. Last week, when Mr Lee appeared in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court, charges against him for breaching the Noise Abatement Act, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and using indecent language were all dropped. Mr Lee did, in fact, have a permit for the sessions he hosts weekly.

This case received wide, and as it turns out, useful public attention because of the hardly thoughtful or reasoned intervention by the culture and entertainment minister, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange. It happened that the Dub Club event, held in a suburban, largely residential area, coincided with the annual carnival celebrations in the city, where thousands of people danced in the streets to loud, mainly soca music. The genres of music played at the Dub Club sessions are primarily reggae and rocksteady.

There is a view among some Jamaicans that carnival, and the soca music that underpins it, is a foreign import that appeals largely to middle class and well-to-do Jamaicans who can afford expensive costumes with which to masquerade. The simple interpretation is that dancehall and reggae and their affectations identify with another class of Jamaicans: primarily the poor.

So, while the Dub Club sessions would hardly claim to abide by these sociological stereotypes, when nearby residents complained to the police about the noise from the event, on a night when the carnival road march was still on, it was easy to draw the presumed distinctions: local versus foreign; uptown versus downtown; middle class versus poor.




Indeed, Ms Grange, who has in the past managed dancehall acts, declared: "It is really unfortunate that something like this happened (the fracas and arrest at the Dub Club) at the same time as carnival as it sends the wrong signal."

The concern was not whether the police acted without due cause, or on the basis of a credible complaint, but that they acted at all, especially on the night of carnival. The issues, of course, were not mutually inclusive - action in one ought not to have been dependent on what happened at the other.

As it turned out, the police had their starting point wrong. Mr Lee had a valid permit. No evidence was offered that he departed from its terms. It doesn't seem that he was given time to produce it.

There is no claim either that external influences caused the police to withdraw the other charges, though Ms Grange's hasty intervention could give credible reasons to the conspiracy theorists.

Doing right the first time builds trust. And it doesn't clog the court system.