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EDITORIAL - Holding people accountable

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Previous information about the seeming systematic thievery of guns from the police armoury would by itself raise disturbing questions about the management and accountability in the police force as well as deepen the fear of crime that so grips law-abiding Jamaicans.

Those concerns can only have been exacerbated by Tuesday's recovery from the streets of a pistol that was supposed to be in the custody of the constabulary, having been seized eight years ago from a man who was convicted for its illegal possession.

It is, in the circumstances, important for Mr Owen Ellington - soon to be confirmed as the police chief - to begin to provide answers to what in the Jamaica Constabulary Force's long history of ineptitude, fiascos and embarrassments must be among its worst. He has to demonstrate that it is not only junior ranks who are being held to account, recognising that failure to act urgently, and credibly, will only worsen already weak public confidence in the constabulary and belief in its capacity for reform.

Scope of the theft

This latest round of shame began on February 4 when, it is claimed, a group of junior cops stumbled on a transaction on Munster Road, east Kingston, where weapons from the police armoury were being sold/transferred. A police sergeant, Russell Robinson, as well as three other persons, including two civilian employees of the armoury, has been charged in the conspiracy.

A full inventory is being done of the armoury to determine the scope of the theft, which appears not to be limited to the 19 guns and approximately 11,000 bullets seized at Munster Road. Indeed, the Beretta 9mm pistol confiscated on Tuesday should either have been in the armoury or among old/illegal guns destroyed by the police.

It is a legitimate assumption, given the acknowledgement that these 20 guns left the armoury, that many more could have. And it is quite probable that such thefts could have been taking place for a long time. Guns that should have been under the control of the police might have been used to commit several of the more than 1,600 murders in Jamaica last year.

Massive breach

Given the context of Jamaica, how could such an obviously massive breach on what ought to be among the securest of police facilities have happened? And if the February 4 incident wasn't the first, how could the thefts on multiple occasions occur without senior and accountable officers becoming aware that guns were missing?

It cannot be enough to say that the systems that operated at the armoury were designed for honest people. It is in part because of human foibles such as dishonesty that accountability procedures are enforced.

On the face of it, the police's accounting and accountability systems, at least those relating to one of its most sensitive installations, were fatally flawed. It would not be outrageous to conclude that no one was in charge, or that if someone was, he or she was asleep on the job.

If, indeed, someone senior to Sergeant Robinson had responsibility for the armoury that ought to be made clear, and Mr Ellington must satisfy himself that that person conducted himself/herself responsibly. Given the gravity of this matter, that person should be sent on leave while Mr Ellington conducts his review.

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