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Chat with commissioner on crime

Published:Thursday | March 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

I had a chat with Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington on crime in Jamaica. He was very proud of the fact that no police person died in the line of duty in 2011. He places a high value on the life of his staff and he is on record as saying that the most difficult aspect of the job has been to attend the funerals of fallen ones in the service of securing the safety of Jamaica. He surmises that the achievement of no death at the hands of criminals could be due to the fact that there has been a reduction in corruption among members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), as it is believed that police persons who cooperate with criminal networks are highly likely to get killed. His reasoning is not far-fetched as Professor Anthony Harriott in his book, Police and Crime Control in Jamaica (2000), outlines deep-seated corruption within the JCF.

It is noteworthy that the commissioner is not only concerned about his staff members being killed but also when his members kill others. And this is how it ought to be.

This emphasis on protecting life has borne fruit under Ellington's leadership. There has been an approximate 40 per cent drop in the murder rate since the Tivoli operation in May 2010. One year and two months ago, I argued in an article 'Owen Ellington: Personality of the Year' for 2010 (Jan 6, 2011) that "He brought Jamaica back from the brink of anarchy. There were many stories about the weaponry of the underworld, the organisational capacity and reach of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke who was extradited.

Power of the underworld

The burning of police stations frightened Jamaicans at home and abroad and confirmed our worst fears about the power of the underworld. However, with calmness and professionalism, he has demonstrated that the police force, assisted by the military, is capable of handling persons involved in the drugs and weapons trade. The society breathes more freely today." And the country is no longer gripped with that fear of the underworld. We need, therefore, to cooperate with the Police High Command to rid the JCF of the corrupt cops; provide information confidentially to the JCF to undermine the criminal network; dismantle gangs and the gun trade. Otherwise, the spike in murder rate after the December 2011 general election will become a trend.

It is believed that the spike in murder rate was due to too much money in the wrong hands in the recent election campaign, and the resultant unfair distribution of financial resources has led to the deaths. Minister of National Security Peter Bunting had previously offered a similar analysis. Something needs to be done about campaign financing. And Karl Samuda, the Jamaica Labour Party's campaign director, in an insightful observation said, "This extraordinary amount of money (spent) on election must be addressed, not only is it not necessary but it oftentimes fails to be transmitted into votes" (Gleaner, March 5). This is not a new position by Samuda who I have heard state before that personal interaction and work in the community is far more effective than all these electioneering. Therefore, the main plank of the campaign financing needs to be disclosure of source of funds and not public financing of political parties. Too much money is spent on the general elections and it leads to criminal activities.

It is clear that Ellington is analytical and has a strategic plan on how to confront and control crime in Jamaica. What is needed now is all hands on deck to enable the JCF to be a competent and professional unit, and the society to help those in poverty to be empowered.

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. Send comments to