No need for Commissioner Ellington to resign

Raulston Nembhard

Saturday, September 08, 2012    

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TO be a policeman or policewoman in Jamaica has to be one of the most stressful jobs that anyone could ever undertake. Few parents would want their children to enter this profession: the police are underpaid, are often forced to live and work under horrible conditions and few have any prospect of a decent retirement to look forward to. In a politically tribalised society like Jamaica, the task of policing is made especially stressful. The police do not only have to contend with the violence engendered by tribal politics, but the long history of political interference by the political directorate. And both the PNP and JLP administrations have politicised the force down through the years in their attempt at achieving political power.

It would seem to me that it is only in recent times that the constabulary has been given some breathing space by the political directorate. But even while the politicians are responsible for policy and the constabulary for operational matters, the spectre of interference hangs over the force like the sword of Damocles as each new administration is elected to office. The force is still a far way off from achieving the full confidence of being independent; of doing their work without fear or favour and of developing the kind of professionalism of which the people of Jamaica can be proud. It must be said that since Owen Ellington acted and subsequently became the commissioner of police, there seems to be a growing confidence that we might have begun to turn a corner in the arduous task of building a professional force. He has moved to stamp out corruption and many senior policemen have either been demoted or retired in the people's interest. The recent arrest of high-profile members of the society for bribery, corruption and perversion of justice has been seen by many as an example of this growing confidence on the path to a professional constabulary.

It seems a bit trite against the foregoing that the PNPYO should be asking for the resignation of Mr Ellington at this time. Their position could not have been well thought out, and one wonders at the real agenda behind their call. It is true that extra-judicial killings by the police have been a worrying trend in policing in Jamaica. The killing of young, pregnant Kayann Lamont in Yallahs, St Thomas, the wounding of her sister and attempt at bodily harm on another sister is dastardly, by all counts. The extra-judicial killing of Kayann is reprehensible and could not be condoned by anyone with a sane mind. No one could sanction extra-judicial killing by agencies of the state who have been empowered to protect the life and property of the citizens they serve. But to call for the resignation of the police commissioner at this time, a man who has brought a new sense of policing to the Jamaica Constabulary Force and who is dogged in his commitment to root out corruption in the force, is untenable. To make this call is to be insensitive to the Augean stables that he has been called upon to clean. And the stables are not to be found only in the JCF, but in the wider society where corruption and nastiness are at an all-time high.

The nexus between crime and depressed economic growth has been well documented and recognised. If we could bring especially violent crimes under control we could begin to see a difference in our economic growth prospects as domestic and international investor confidence increases. Recent studies by the World Bank have spoken eloquently to this. It would behove organisations such as the PNPYO to lend their brains to figuring out how crime could be contained to tolerable limits so that economic growth could be achieved over the short and long term. They would do a greater service to the society by doing this instead of indulging the vacuity of thinking that is expressed in their call for the commissioner's resignation.

While they are at it, they could better serve their organisation, and by extension the wider society, if they would give more time (which they seem to have in abundance), to help the government chart a wholesome IMF package. Surely, with youth unemployment as it is, and as it is forecast to be, they should have more than a passing interest in an IMF agreement and how this may affect the prospects of young people in this country. They do their members a great disservice when they tilt at windmills. No one would deny that there are abundant problems in the JCF, but there are greater problems in the society which merit greater attention by as important an affiliate of the ruling party as the PNPYO than the resignation of Mr Owen Ellington as commissioner of police. Do the wiser heads in the PNP have some counsel, some advice for their younger members, or do they also agree that Mr Ellington should go?

Dr Raulston Nembhard





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