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Moral hazards and housecleaning in JCF

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The behaviour of the three junior policemen and the district constable whose action led to last week's seizure of a cache of weapons and ammunition and an audit of, and a probe into, the management of the police armoury was by all accounts exemplary.

But while we appreciate accolades being showered upon them, we wonder whether their immediate promotion represents the best, or most appropriate way to recognise the men who initiated the bust.

More significantly, the entire episode speaks loudly about the rot in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and reinforces the magnitude of the job to be undertaken by Mr Owen Ellington, who is soon to be officially confirmed as the commissioner of police.

The policemen in the arms bust are reported to have rebuffed the entreaties of a colleague sergeant, discovered at the premises with the stolen weapons, not to arrest him. This sergeant, it turned out, worked in the police armoury and is suspected to have been part of a ring that stole police weapons and ammunition for sale to criminals.

Clearly, junior officers might have been inveigled to join the racket rather than make the bust. Or, they they might have been bribed to look the other way. That they chose to do the right thing is heartening. But that is what we expect of our police officers. Or, to put it bluntly, these policemen did their jobs.


This brings us back to the matter of the promotions. There is the danger here of Mr Ellington creating a moral hazard. He may now be expected to promote police officers anytime they behave responsibly, especially with regard to cases involving significant drama or people of high social rank and recognisable names. What differentiates, say, those officers in last week's case from a cop on the traffic beat who rejects a bribe from a motorist who infringes the law, or a constable who might break a car-stealing ring that, perhaps, is being facilitated by members of the constabulary? There is the issue of measuring morality!

Maybe it is that the rot of the JCF is so deep and wide that Mr Ellington feels constrained to promote anyone who abides by his oath and performs with honesty, without any fear of disrupting the established ratios between the ranks.

The gun bust raises most immediately questions about the robustness of management systems in the JCF and how people are held accountable for the tasks to which they are assigned. We find it difficult to grasp that 19 guns and 11,000 rounds of ammunition could have left the police armoury undiscovered, except being stumbled upon by a group of sharp-eyed patrol officers. One gun and a few bullets might be understandable, but 19, in the context of the specific circumstance, is stupendous! And the figure could be higher, depending on what is discovered in the audit ordered by Mr Ellington.

systems of accountability

All this raises the question of how this could have happened and what has happened to the person who is ultimately in charge of the armoury. We assume that there are systems of accountability as well as periodic verification audits of the distribution and use of police guns and ammunition. Why did these not show discrepancies?

What the incident confirms, obviously, is that there is major housecleaning to be done at the JCF.

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