Commissioner Ellington and a de-politicised Constabulary Force
The police have moved with alacrity in the investigation of the killing of young Khajeel Mais who was shot and killed in a taxi by an enraged motorist. They have seized two BMW X6s, one of which they believe was used by the shooter in the incident. They have now detained a suspect that they are hoping to question with regard to the shooting. The police must be commended for this quick work. It is an indication that the force is getting better at intelligence gathering which can only augur well for crime-fighting strategies going into the future.
The swift work is also a commentary on the improved work that we have been seeing in the force since the appointment of Mr Ellington as police commissioner. From his work as interim commissioner, there was every indication that there was something new and different in his approach to the job. Since his full appointment this has become more palpable. The 40 per cent fall in the murder statistics did not come by fiat, but by a deliberate strategy driven by a philosophy of policing that we have not seen in Jamaica for a long time. Central to this philosophy has been the need to root out corrupt elements from within the force. A corrupt police force gives the greatest succour to the rise and expansion of crime in any given society. Seizing on this, a number of officers have been removed from their jobs for corrupt activity. Those that remain and those wishing to join the force have sensed that the commissioner means business; that he is not merely paying lip service as others have done in the past to a matter of grave importance to the security of Jamaican citizens.
Coupled with the drive against corruption within the force is the slow but welcome de-politicisation of the force. It is not easy for anyone to pin a political label on Commissioner Ellington. And neither does he wear his political adherence on his sleeve as some in the past have done. Any cursory assessment of the Jamaica Constabulary Force since Independence in 1962 will reveal a force that has been bedevilled by interference from the political directorate, almost from the moment of inception. In the tumultuous periods of our national life, especially the period between 1970 to 2000, the force was not given a free hand to conduct itself as a professional body. Commissioners were appointed through the prism of partisan loyalties and elevations in the ranks were often defined by political cleavages. The net result of all this was a spectacular rise in crime, especially murders, to almost intolerable levels prior to the pre-Dudus extradition in May 2010. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the improvement that we are seeing in the crime statistics is related to the forced de-politicisation of the force and Mr Ellington's own determination that he be given a free hand to build a professional force. In some sense, whatever de-politicisation we are witnessing has happened by default and might have been one good thing that has come out of the Dudus extradition. One cannot be too sure how sanguine the Golding administration has been in relinquishing control of the force by the political directorate. What is certain is that Mr Ellington has taken full advantage of the respite given and has moved the force in a direction that will make the stranglehold of the political directorate over the force much more difficult in the future. All Jamaica should be glad for this and should stand fully behind the commissioner in the difficult work that he and his members have to be carrying out.
They must have the full support of civil society in continuing this fight. We cannot howl the loudest when the police are perceived to carry out a human right violation and then remain quiet when they put their lives on the line in the pursuance of their duty. I do not believe that the force is afraid of criticism, but they do appeal for balance in the ways in which their work is adjudged by the public and especially the media. Significant improvements have taken place and yet I have not heard some of the groups that are more vocal in their criticism of the force saying a word of acknowledgement that this is so. It must be frustrating that despite your best efforts, at times you are met with negative appraisals that are sometimes not rooted in the truth.
I hold no brief for the police force, but I believe that like other organisations in the society they are deserving of fair and just appraisals of their conduct. It is true that there still remain in the force men and women who are bent on corrupting the reputation of the force. There are those who will accept bribes and those in whose hand a gun makes them feel like God Almighty. These will go on to carry out extra-judicial killings or may even put their firearm up for hire. But we ought to rest a little easier to see that the behaviour of these rogue elements is now becoming more the exception than the rule. We can all breathe a little easier that we have in the present commissioner a man who is determined to return a level of professionalism to the force, and who does so, not with flamboyance and rhetoric, but with a studied calm and humility that we have not seen in the JCF for a long time. We must keep the force under scrutiny, but we all have a vested interest in seeing that they succeed in the work they ought to perform for the people of Jamaica.