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Editorial | Consensus necessary to reform impervious JCF

Published:Saturday | May 4, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It has taken him a long time, but Antony Anderson, the former army general who heads Jamaica’s police force, appears to now have a plan to reform the gravely corrupt and notoriously incompetent constabulary. At least, that’s what we have been told by General Anderson’s boss, National Security Minister Horace Chang, in a preview to the announcement.

According to Dr Chang, General Anderson’s ideas, on which he has briefed the Government, include changes to “both the management and oversight of the police force, as well as changes to entities within the force”. That, on the face of it, will require a substantial and substantive legislative programme, including changes to the Constitution, which need the support of the political opposition.

If we are right, and the reforms are to take place this year, as Dr Chang suggests is to be the case, then we hope the administration has begun to engage the People’s National Party, working towards consensus and, thereby, lessening the possibility of partisan gamesmanship, in which the nation would be the loser. Citizen security, by the security forces, that supports this agenda, is too critical for them to be subjected to petty, or prolonged, open contentiousness. That is why we wish the big issues settled first, and, at the very least, no one is taken by surprise.

The change about which Dr Chang was specific, the disbandment of the Mobile Reserve Unit and the constitution of the vetted team to replace it, has the support of this newspaper and will be welcomed by serious-thinking Jamaicans. Indeed, that is a suggestion that has been made, to varying extents, several times before, by myriad groups. Governments and police chiefs have largely tinkered around the edges.

In a constabulary with a difficult-to-break, jack-booted, paramilitary culture of policing, Mobile Reserve, the tough-guy formation that responds to crises, has a reputation as a closed shop where restraint is low, use of force is excessive, and accountability is little. It has been cited by the Independent Commission of Investigations for high numbers of killings during its planned operations when fatalities should be low. And the commission of inquiry into the 2010 west Kingston violence reported that when accusations of extrajudicial killings were levelled against the police, it was mostly Mobile Reserve that was blamed. They called for external oversight of the unit.

The Government and General Anderson have decided to disband the group and start afresh with people who are appropriately vetted and “properly trained and equipped”. The obvious conclusion is that the Mobile Reserve, as currently constituted, can’t be reformed.

CRITICAL TO THE REFORM

Obviously, General Anderson, who has been on the job for a year, doesn’t believe that the same approach is practical for the Jamaica Constabulary Force as a whole, which has a history of being impervious to change and of its members circling the wagons in the face of perceived challenges. They have also been quite adept at co-opting political parties in pursuit of their interests.

Consensus on reform, therefore, is important, lest the Government and Opposition are played off against each other.

Further, the Police Services Commission, the primary oversight body for the constabulary, is entrenched in the Constitution, and a bill to change it has to stand on the table of the House for three months before its debate, and, after debate, another three months before its passage.

Passing laws and spending money on equipment will be critical to the reform. More important, though, will be a tough-minded commitment to push ahead in the face of resistance.

That grit is necessary not only from General Anderson, but from the head of the political stream, Prime Minister Andrew Holness.