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EDITORIAL - Welcome to a tough job, Mr Ellington

Published:Sunday | April 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

We are glad that Mr Owen Ellington has finally been able to resolve his contractual issues, allowing for his formal appointment as Jamaica's commissioner of police, the post in which he has acted for nearly five months.

Undistracted by concerns over his pension, Mr Ellington's clear priority must now be the leading of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the crafting and refining of strategies with which to confront criminals.

For, as the commissioner is aware, he has taken over the Jamaican police force at a particularly difficult time for the organisation and the country. Indeed, the conclusion of his agreement was on the 112th day of the year, on which Jamaica recorded its 500th murder for 2010.

We are clearly on track to maintain the statistics of recent years of more than 1,600 homicides annually, or a murder rate of over 60 per 100,000 population. These ratios, unenviously, place us among the top three countries for homicides.

But it is not only the fact of the wanton killings, or the high levels of other serious crimes, that cause Jamaicans to be fearful. We are distressed, too, by the fact that criminals can act with seeming impunity. They are unlikely to be caught and punished.

Indeed, the official statistics suggest that there is a less than two-thirds chance that a perpetrator of a serious crime in Jamaica will ever be brought to justice.

Quick results needed

In these circumstances, Mr Ellington will find himself under pressure to show results quickly, which translates to a demand for more effective policing and lower crime rates. Last week, Mr Ellington sought to assure the nation that he was already putting in place the strategies to ensure such outcomes.

He talked, for instance, of the increased presence of police officers in communities and other public areas, the use of covert operations, as well as an enhanced stop-and-search programme to catch transitory criminals. But Mr Ellington stressed that these efforts have to buttressed by support from citizens for the police, including the sharing of information.

He is right. For, effective policing is essentially a partnership between the constabulary and the society it has sworn to serve.

Mr Ellington, however, will be aware that there is a major downside to achieving the partnership for which he hopes. There is a lack of trust on the part of Jamaicans for their police.

There are good reasons for this. Not only is corruption rife in the JCF, but it is largely a para-military force, too many of whose members do not respect the rights of citizens. Jamaicans believe that many of the more than 200 police homicides annually represent extra-judicial executions.

It is true that in recent years, there has been more stringent efforts by the JCF to fight corruption within its ranks and to have members adhere to its use-of-force policies. Yet, there is still much work to be done.

Reshaping the JCF, therefore, must be a primary task for Mr Ellington if he hopes to win the confidence and support of Jamaicans. We suggest to the commissioner that he, within the next 30 days, outline a strategy for cleaning the JCF of corruption, including specific targets and deliverables, and for how he expects to be held accountable.

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