Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Keith Gardner | JCF needs shock treatment

Published:Sunday | February 11, 2018 | 12:28 AM

The recent call for the resignation of the regional and internationally recognised criminologist, distinguished academic and co-author of the last National Security Strategy, Professor Anthony Harriott, by the newly appointed chairman of the Police Federation, Sgt Cecil McCalla, is unfortunate. This comes in response to the professor’s scathing commentary, that the police force was “toxic”, in The Gleaner regarding the nature and scope of corruption in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).   

The call for Professor Harriott’s resignation as a member of the Police Civilian Oversight Committee betrays a misunderstanding by the Police Federation of the professor’s intention. That is, to inform policymakers of the rot within the JCF and a call for action to dismantle corruption within the organisation and restore confidence among Jamaicans and its diaspora, while rallying well-thinking Jamaicans to lobby for reform within the organisation.

There are members of the Jamaican diaspora who are contemplating returning to their beloved island, but are harbouring great reservations based on the high murder rate and the targeting of returning residents.

Anyone following the writings of this outstanding academic, Professor Anthony Harriott, including the numerous officers such as myself and retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant who participated in his criminology classes, will understand that he bears no grudge for the JCF.   

No police officer, whether active or retired, who has the force’s interest at heart can deny the sense of embarrassment and shame we feel when disparaging comments are directed at the police - not the least because the kinds of crimes they commit are sometimes heinous and shock the conscience of well-thinking Jamaicans at home and abroad.

There is a nexus between police corruption and crime, and without any empirical evidence, my experience in the force leads me to assert that there is a direct relationship between the two. When corruption is high, so is the crime rate.

The majority of honest police personnel at all ranks cannot afford to live in denial. Any writer on police corruption will tell you that the first step to addressing police corruption is the admission that it exists. The next step is to devise plans on how to eradicate corruption at every level.

I am aware that Sgt McCalla will be aware of the need to be recognised as representing the best interest of the rank-and-file members, but this is certainly not the way to go about it. We must not kill the prophets.

The Christian community within the force is increasing in number, and daily prayers have become a fixture at almost every formation. We call upon those well-thinking members to join in the fight against corruption, collaborating with their church, civil society, community members, and the private sector.

Law enforcers must also understand that they police with the tacit approval of the community. Any withdrawal of such approval can result in anarchy. The inability of the Government to provide reasonable security is the pathway to a failing State.

All members of the force should sit back and re-examine the pitfalls that led to the public outcry of the early 1990s, which led to the appointment of a commissioner from outside the ranks of the force. Not once, but on two occasions. Given the present dilemma, it may, and should, happen again.

Congratulations to the young assistant commissioner of police, Kevin Blake, who it is understood has recently obtained his PhD. Given sufficient operational exposure across various branches and areas of the force, he should be well positioned and groomed as the commissioner to succeed the next appointee, who should be given a sufficient mandate – at least five years - to implement the policies, strategies and plans to turn around the force.

Millennial policing calls for innovation and a change in traditional approaches. Policemen and women can no longer labour under the notion that they alone have the answers to public disorder and crime fighting. The approach must be collaborative.

They ignore the warning of the people at their peril. It is this resistance to change to which former commissioner Hardley Lewin and Professor Anthony Harriott speak so eloquently. A messiah will come with a doctrine that will pull the force up by its bootstraps, screaming or not, with the support of the institutions and people of goodwill, and no amount of resistance from within the force will change this. We need to work together with the decent law-abiding majority of the force to win back the confidence of the public by eschewing corruption and rebuilding building confidence.

- Keith Gardner was a 40-year veteran of the JCF, leaving at the rank of assistant commissioner of police. He is an attorney-at-law and director of security at the UWI, Mona. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and keith.gardner02@uwimona.edu.jm.