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EDITORIAL - The internal challenge facing Mr Ellington

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Not unexpectedly, Mr Owen Ellington, who has been acting as Jamaica's commissioner of police since towards the end of last year, has been officially offered the job, although the appointment has not yet been officially announced.

The decision of by the Police Service Commission (PSC) after its interview of a number of candidates represents, as this newspaper observed, a return to promotion from within the ranks of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) following the brief interlude of Mr Ellington's predecessor, the former Jamaica Defence Force chief, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin.

The PSC's decision, in the current circumstances, is understandable.

He is a qualified and articulate police officer who, in the three months he acted as police chief, behaved with comfort in the post. He said many of the right things and implemented seemingly workable initiatives. Moreover, Mr Ellington clearly enjoys the confidence of the force.

Paradoxically, it is the latter point which ought to concern Mr Ellington and which, if he is not determined and strong, will lead to a tenure of mediocrity. In other words, he could be in danger of been ensnared and held hostage by institutional flattery and thereby rendered impotent to lead fundamental change.

It is so, and notoriously known to be so, that the JCF is a deeply corrupt organisation that - despite the recent efforts of reform, driven to a large extent by officers recruited from abroad - is resistant to change.

Indeed, it hardly a secret that among the frustrations faced by Admiral Lewin were the attempts by many in the organisation to undermine his efforts to weed out corruption and to create a disciplined and accountable institution. Similar resistance was faced by Col Trevor MacMillan, another army import, during his 1990s attempt to reform the police force.

'Squaddie' mentality

Part of the problem faced by those gentlemen, too, is the 'squaddie' mentality of the JCF, referring to the loyalties that exist among squad members and the broader institution that limit action by the uncorrupt against those who bring the force into disrepute.

This is where Mr Ellington will be severely tested. He will have to rise above squaddie loyalties if he is to have a realistic chance of breaking the back of the JCF's institutional corruption and fashioning a genuinely civilian constabulary that respects citizens rights, rather than the para-military organisation that now exists.

If he goes go that route, he will find out, as Admiral Lewin did, that attempting transformational leadership can be a lonely experience. For he will soon be abandoned by many of those who now cheer loudest for him.

The truth, Mr Ellington must be told, is that many of the proponents of elevation from within expect that it will mean maintaining the status quo.

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