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EDITORIAL - In support of INDECOM

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The constabulary and its auxiliaries have allowed themselves to be persuaded by the police chief, Owen Ellington, to cool, if not permanently drop, their campaign for the removal of Terrence Williams as head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). That, at face value, is a sensible step forward.

It is, however, no cause for complacency, but a time for continued vigilance. For the tact, now, is to attempt, via the political route, to eviscerate INDECOM and render it impotent.

Its fate, ultimately, would be that of the Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA).

That is the background to the declared intention by the police groups to "robustly pursue dialogue" with ministers, and via the courts, to have the INDECOM law amended. Indeed, it ought to be recalled that INDECOM was established because Jamaicans concluded the PPCA had failed.

Both agencies were born out of a deep concern among Jamaicans that their constabulary, the difficult environment in which it operates notwithstanding, behaved with impunity. Its members were too often accused of a callous disregard for people's rights, to the point of extrajudicial killings. While the professionalism of the constabulary may have improved in recent years, 951 police homicides in the four years to end of 2011 is worrying.

By the late 1980s, these concerns caused the then Seaga administration to begin the assembly - strengthened by the new government in the 1990s - of the PPCA.

Its job, primarily, was to "monitor the investigation by the (police) force of any complaint" of abuse against its members. Although it had substantial independence in law, a major weakness of the PPCA was that while it could, on its own, investigate complaints, it by and large depended on the police for its manpower.

Confidence lost in PPCA

Essentially, it monitored the police's investigations of the police. Inevitably, the constabulary did little, and the public soon lost confidence in the PPCA.

Its successor was launched less than two years ago, with significant insulation from political interference and, critically, an independent team of investigators. INDECOM officers have, in law, many of the powers of the police. Additionally, at crime scenes where civilians have been injured or killed by the police, INDECOM investigators are, on the face of it, empowered to take charge of the evidence.

Quite expectedly, a potentially strong and independent oversight agency has been a matter of unease for a police force that, largely, has been answerable to no one for alleged misconduct. Terrence Williams' public posture, such as his recent appearance at a news conference hosted by a human rights group to express concern over a recent spate of police killings, only exacerbated already bubbling tensions.

In that regard, the Police Federation's supposed concern that Mr Williams and INDECOM could no longer objectively investigate the police was a red herring which neither police chief Owen Ellington nor the Government should countenance.

Mr Ellington has gained respect for his seeming genuine willingness to modernise the constabulary. He, however, has to be wary of cynical attempts to forge a siege mentality in the constabulary and attempts to exclude if he fails to embrace the myth.

Similarly, the political leaders must be unconcerned about for whom the police cast their ballots. The real issue is how they do their jobs and the trust the public can have in them. The public must know what is at stake.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.