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EDITORIAL - Ellington's actions do not go far enough

Published:Tuesday | March 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It is a welcome development that Owen Ellington, the acting police chief, is seeking to bring under some level of management the use of crowd-control irritants, such as tear gas.

Unfortunately, it required a retired judge's condemnation of the stupid act of a junior cop, which might have cost the lives of seven girls, for the constabulary to right what appears to have been a management free-for-all. But better late than never.

Mr Ellington's actions, however, do not go far enough. Two things are missing. A new, over-arching protocol for the control and management of the constabulary's use-of-force assets, whether lethal or non-lethal, is absent. Procedures governing the acquisition, in tactical situations, of tear gas, guns and bullets ought not to be different.

Nor do we discern from Mr Ellington's actions so far that those who were in charge of the police armoury - assuming someone was - are being called to account.

This failure has to be addressed - and apparently so - if Mr Ellington hopes to institute a use-of-force policy that is not only credible, but has the support of the society.

A shame

The commissioner's call for an inventory of tear-smoke canisters comes in the wake of the report by Justice Paul Harrison on the fire at Armadale correctional facility for girls, in which seven wards died. Justice Harrison blames a policeman, Lawrence Burrell, for starting that fire by hurling the tear-gas canister into a cramped, locked room with more than 20 girls.

It is a shame that there appears to have been no oversight in Constable Burrell's use of tear gas, as well as no official record of his acquisition of the ball at the police station at Alexandria, St Ann.

Armadale, though, does not stand alone. It is part of a wider, systemic failure of any arrangement the constabulary might have had for the management of its armoury. Indeed, the theft of the 19 guns and 11,000 bullets recovered at Munster Road and the Beretta pistol seized at Sunrise Crescent suggest an armoury overrun by thievery and corruption.

No one, apparently, noticed this disintegration, for the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) management/security systems, we have been informed, are designed for honest people. Unsurprisingly, they are easily defeated when corrupt people appear. We would suggest, though, that management/security systems are implemented because of human foibles, including that people are sometimes corrupt. In that context, management oversight is important. Managers have to inspect what they expect.

Stealing police ammunition

If the JCF's managers subscribed to that philo-sophy, it might not have required a few junior officers to stumble upon a transaction for the police to discover, as appears to be the allegation, that an armoury sergeant and two civilian employees were robbing the constabulary blind and selling its arms and ammunition to criminals.

Another concern in the tear-gas directive is the apparent dependence on those in the field, at stations and in special formations, to act in good faith by accounting for tear gas in their possession and turning in old ones.

But in the circumstances, the onus should be on the high command to collect them. As things now stand, these stations, and the armoury managers, are unlikely to know who has the constabulary's guns.

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