COMMISSIONER of Police Owen Ellington made two statements last week - one good and the other bad. The good one was his statement about opening the Jamaica Constabulary Force to more public scrutiny. He emphasises that the JCF costs the country $30 billion annually to operate. Therefore, the Jamaican people, as one of the force's stakeholders, have a right to know what is happening within the organisation.
The police force has come a far way in the dissemination of information to the public since the Calver era. Englishman WA Calver of Scotland Yard came here in l948 to reorganise the police force. For many years during and immediately after his term of office, the media had little opportunity to question him or many of his top officers, or get information on crime in a systematic way and on any matters pertaining to the operation of the force. All the media received was a brief handout placed on a table outside the commissioner's office at East Queen Street.
Considerable progress has been made in the dissemination of information by the police since the establishment of the Police Information Centre (PIC) in the early 1970s when Basil Robinson was commissioner of police. The progress continued with the transformation of PIC to the Constabulary Communication Network (CNN) by Superintendent James Forbes when Francis Forbes was commissioner.
Ellington has made a major step forward in his policy of transparency on many aspects of the operation of the force. For example, the prestigious Force Orders, a weekly publication, which carries new policies and directions of the commissioner to the force is being issued to the media. Statements of national importance about crime are made by senior officers, not just statistics.
The more the public knows about the administration and operations of the force, the greater the chances are for their trust in the force. The move by Ellington to make the force more transparent can only redound to the enhancement of the relations between the police and the people, for when the public knows what the police are doing they will be better able to support the police to fight crime. However, it is critical that there is absolute honesty and fairness in the content of the information released.
Ellington states categorically that the success in controlling crime depends critically on assistance from individual citizens. If citizens do not trust police motives or capabilities, they will withhold their support. "They will not call when victimised, will not co-operate in investigations and will not show up as witnesses. The police must therefore be interested in the quality of the individual transaction with citizens as both a value and as a valuable means," Ellington says. Full marks to the commissioner for further changes in the matrix of co-operation between the police and the public.
The bad statement by Ellington was that there is need for a review of the Noise Abatement Act. Said he: "We have to rethink the strategy of enforcing a law to the detriment of people enjoying legitimate night activity.'' Ellington should be aware that Jamaicans of all classes have suffered and are suffering from unlawful night noise. It disturbs children, especially in the inner cities. It affects their concentration with their homework and certainly does not allow them a good night's rest, which is important to their performance at school the following day. It is also detrimental to workers getting a good rest at night in order to produce at a high level the following day, and the country needs increased productivity in order to compete against imported goods and enable its exports to compete overseas. Night noise is therefore an obstacle to economic development.
So what the commissioner should do is to work out ways and means for a more effective enforcement of the law. One way of doing this is to get policemen who operate sound systems to obey the law and stiffer penalties for people who flout it.
Many of us are familiar with the following scenario: the police visit a venue blasting loud music at night and tell the sound system operator to ''tune down" which the operator does in the presence of the police, but as soon as the police leave, the operator turns up the sound again.
An informative letter from David Mahfood was published in the Jamaica Observer on Friday, November 2: "With his (Ellington's) direct appeal on behalf of night noise perpetrators, what message is the commissioner of police sending to his own police officers on whom citizens depend to protect their rights? After all, excessive night noise violates the law and the rights of citizens to peace and quiet in their own homes."
Calling JPS again
Hurricane Sandy damaged a Jamaica Public Service Company utility pole at the Guava Gap square in West Rural St Andrew. At the time of writing on Sunday evening, the pole was still hanging dangerously in the square. This needs urgent attention before someone is killed. Will the JPS please treat this matter with urgency.