Listen to Nationwide News Network’s special report “Hidden Culture”. It is narrated by Nationwide’s Marjorie Gordon and centres on an interview with a serving member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It is a chilling account of the ways in which extrajudicial killings are carried out and covered up by members of the police force, with the involvement of gazetted ranks. The policeman’s voice has been distorted to protect his identity. It was first broadcast on March 21, 2018, was rebroadcast a number of times that week and is now posted on SoundCloud.
Many of the things that he spoke about are things that have been reported on before, things that I have heard of over many years. The difference here is that a serving policeman is giving a personal account in an interview being broadcast on radio.
“You’re a constable going to work and you realise that your name is set to go on an operation to be conducted 3 o’clock in the morning. So, I go on the operation. When I go on the operation with several other officers, we are briefed by the officer in charge of that operation, who is sometimes a Deputy Superintendent, sometimes an Insepector, sometimes even a Superintendent himself. And what we are told to do, the instructions that we are given on that operation, kill!…We’re going fah a particular person and wi not going to lock him up. There were times when members would ask the question, “So Supa, when we hold So-and-So, what di position? Jail or morgue?” And we are told, “Mi nuh inna nuh jail business.”…As a young constable on an operation like that, what am I to do? What am I to do? Can I stand in the crowd of twenty, thirty police officers and say I’m not going? I can’t do that. So I go on the operation, as a part of this operation, and when I see my colleagues fire shots in an innocent man….I’ve been on operations where I myself have fired. It does something to you. It did something to me and it has…it is doing something to others out there. I have a lot of colleagues who are lost in the culture. I realise…I have realised and I have come to the conclusion, most of us, we have lost ourselves because of how we are taught in the streets when we leave training school.” (Transcribed from Nationwide News Network’s ‘Hidden Culture’)
It has long been known that the problem is not simply one of individual rogue police, but that there is a culture within Jamaica’s police force that supports the use of extrajudicial killings as a crime fighting method. And there are those outside the JCF, across the society, who believe this also and would want us as a people to turn a blind eye and allow the police to do weh dem haffi do.
If we want to change this culture, to rid the JCF of this approach, to have a police service that is unequivocally committed to lawful, professional, accountable and rights-centred policing, then we have to seize opportunities for change. At the moment, three such opportunities present themselves.
A New Commissioner of Police
A new Commissioner of Police was sworn in on Monday, March 19, 2018 – Major General Antony Anderson. He is a former head of the Army and is very familiar with the national security situation in Jamaica. One person alone cannot change the culture within and reform the JCF. A Commissioner can, however, provide the type of leadership that may facilitate such change. Whether Commissioner Anderson will (or will be able to) achieve the necessary change remains to be seen, but his appointment opens up an opportunity.
(An associated issue that does need to be considered is how much reliance on the military for/in policing is a good thing. For another blog post perhaps.)
On March 22, 2018, the day after the first broadcast of Nationwide’s special report, the JCF issued a statement in response, which said that
“The purported actions, which are being recounted by an alleged lawman, are categorically condemned by the High Command as they do not align with the principles and standards of a modern Police Force.
The JCF has implemented a series of measures to reinforce acceptable standards of behaviour by its members, particularly with respect to use of force, human rights and engagement with the public.”
It pointed to the JCF’s Early Intervention System, described as “a proactive approach to identifying members who may display tendencies of abnormal behaviour and thereby allowing for timely intervention.” It also mentioned the oversight roles of the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM), the Inspectorate of Constabulary (IOC) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). It promised “to further seek to create a mechanism that will allow persons who have information in these matters to offer same in confidence and without fear.”
Perhaps I have heard too many such statements over the years to find this reassuring. What actions will follow?
Strengthen Rather Than Weaken INDECOM
The two Court of Appeal judgments which were handed down on Friday, March 16, 2018, raise once again the need for the Parliament to revisit the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act. A Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament held meetings from 2013 – 2015 and carried out the first review of the INDECOM Act, as required by the Act itself. The Committee produced a report with its recommendations, which was tabled in Parliament in November 2015. (Click here for a copy of the Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act.) No action has been taken in Parliament regarding this report or its recommendations. (See my blog post in February – Parliamentarians, A Joint Select Committee & INDECOM.)
On March 21, 2018, human rights NGO Jamaicans for Justice issued a press release calling for Parliament to make amendments to the INDECOM Act:
Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck have said that a Parliamentary Committee is to be established to review the INDECOM Act…again. At this point there is no clear indication of the timeline for the establishment of the Committee, how long it is likely to meet or when it will produce and table its report. It also isn’t clear whether it will be asked to review the Act in its entirety or only specific aspects of the Act, those affected by the Court of Appeal judgments, for example. It isn’t clear what weight, if any, will be given to the review done by the 2013 – 2015 JSC or if the public will have the opportunity to make submissions to the new Committee. And after the Committee tables its report, what action will the Parliament take in regard to its recommendations? What if there is a change of government after the report is tabled? Will that delay Parliament taking any action on the Committee’s recommendations, as seems to have been the case with the 2013 – 2015 Committee’s recommendations?
The news now is that INDECOM is seeking leave to appeal to the Privy Council for clarification on important issues in the case, including constitutional issues. It is also reported that Minister Chuck thinks that INDECOM shouldn’t seek to appeal, but should rather wait to see what Parliament decides to do.
So we continue to wait…to see what Parliament will do and when and whether it will use this opportunity to strengthen or weaken the important role INDECOM plays regarding accountability for the police force.
The Police Service Act to Replace the Constabulary Force Act
The Jamaican public first learned of the Government’s plans to replace the Constabulary Force Act with a Police Service Act via a March 2017 Government of Jamaica Letter of Intent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Implement a full legislative review that leads to (i) completion of a draft new Police Service Act to replace the Jamaica Constabulary Force
Act, that supports the modernization and transformation of the
Jamaica Constabulary Force into a modern intelligence-led police
service that ensures Citizen Security, with stronger systems of
administration, management and internal discipline….” (p 21)
The October 2017 Letter of Intent indicated that the measure was “[o]n track for completion by target date”, the target bate being October 2017 (IMF – Jamaica Second Review Under the Stand-By Arrangement Etc October 2017 p 43).
In the Throne Speech delivered by the Governor General in Parliament on February 15, 2018, this new Police Service Act is included as one of the legislative actions to be taken during the 2018 – 2019 legislative year.
This proposed new legislation is obviously an important opportunity for reform of the police force. True reform – the modernisation and transformation being referred to – cannot be achieved by tinkering around the edges of the current legislation or by focusing primarily on increasing the powers of the police. It cannot be accomplished without full and genuine consultation with the people the police service is intended to serve. The legislation cannot be rushed through Parliament without allowing adequate time and opportunity for those who wish to make submissions about the draft legislation to do so. Indeed, it would be best if there were also consultation on the actual draft legislation before it was tabled in Parliament. I know that new legislation is only one part of what needs to be done, but we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for change.
How these three opportunities are handled will have an impact on many aspects of the workings of the police force and whether we move nearer to or further from achieving a professional and accountable police service. One marker in that process – nearer to or further from – will be the impact on that hidden culture of extrajudicial killings.
Relevant documents – Court of Appeal Judgments
The Police Federation, Merrick Watson (Chairman of the Police Officers Association), The Special Constabulary Force Association and Delroy Davis (President of the United District Constables Association) v The Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations and the Attorney General of Jamaica  JMCA Civ. 10
(I am a member and a spokesperson for Jamaicans for Justice. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)