Fri | Mar 31, 2023

Editorial | Honouring the memory of slain cops

Published:Tuesday | June 16, 2020 | 12:13 AM

Law-abiding Jamaicans, who are the vast majority of us, are outraged at the slaying of the two policemen and wounding of two others, including a senior officer, during last week’s incident at Horizon Park, St Catherine. But this anger must not descend, especially among the constabulary, to blind rage, lest they lose the plot and behave in precisely the manner the criminals wish them to, rather than like the institution Jamaicans know it can be.

In other words, even in their grief and anger, we expect the police to be measured and professional. Which is the context in which we interpreted Police Commissioner Antony Anderson’s comment that the murder of Detective Corporal Dane Biggs and Constable Decardo Hylton, and the injuring of Superintendent Leon Clunis and another, would not “cause us to step back”.

There is an important fact, which bears reiterating: that is the acknowledgement, even among the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s sharpest critics, that policing in Jamaica is a difficult and often dangerous business. The country has not only a high level of general crime, but its more than 1,000 murders annually and a homicide rate menacingly close to 50 per 100,000 places Jamaica near the top of the league table of murder capitals.

Nearly 80 per cent of these murders are committed with guns, often reprisal shootings by rival gangs jostling for turf and influence. It usually involves hardened, young criminals with high-powered weapons who are unafraid to confront law officers. The assault rifle left behind by fleeing gunmen at Horizon Park is evidence of the firepower that is in the hands of some criminals. Indeed, the operation was about recovering guns.

So while it doesn’t assuage the grief, or make their deaths any less painful, Detective Corporal Biggs and Constable Hylton, and their colleagues, especially the seasoned Superintendent Clunis, wouldn’t have been oblivious to the potential danger in investigating even seemingly routine complaints, more so one in the dead of the night to recover guns.

These dangers, of course, are not new. Police officers have periodically been killed, or injured, in the line of duty or because of the jobs they do. It happened, for instance, to Constable Toddmar Allen at a bar in Rollington Town a year ago. Constable Crystal Thomas was shot dead in a bus in 2015. There were times, in the 1980s, when the number of police officers killed reached double figures such as the 20 of 1984.

At the same time, the reputation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is not without significant blemish. The force is widely perceived to be corrupt and trigger-happy. Despite the fact that a number of people killed by the police last year was only 31 per cent of the figure of a decade earlier, there were still 86 police homicides, equivalent to about six and a half per cent of the reported criminal homicides. The police are often accused of extrajudicial killings, especially in inner-city communities.


In the circumstances, it would be a tribute to the memory of Detective Corporal Biggs and Constable Hylton and all the other decent police officers who have lost their lives in service to Jamaica, as well as those who now serve with honour, if the transformation of the JCF were accelerated to become what well-thinking people want it to be: an institution that is professional, transparent, deserving of their trust, and that polices with the full consent and support of citizens.

Indeed, even in the midst of tragedy, the Horizon Park incident showed what is possible when there is partnership between the constabulary and citizens. Within hours, the reported main shooter from Horizon Park, Damion Hamilton, was traced to Cooreville Gardens, St Andrew. The police obviously received information.

It is unfortunate that he died in a firefight with the police rather than being captured and made to face the penalty of the law, perhaps a lifetime in prison. That, if it happened swiftly, would have been a demonstration effect of the value of the rule of law and the system of justice. Mr Hamilton might also have been a trove of information on the criminal network of which officials suggest he was a member.

Now, however, the JCF must learn as much a possible from this episode. While the team that went to Horizon Park might have operated in accordance with JCF procedures and protocols, we would expect there to be a full review of the organisation’s systems, as well as of the strategies and tactics employed by the team, to limit the possibility of a recurrence of this tragedy.