The new police commissioner

Monday, January 29, 2018

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Mr George Quallo took over leadership of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) last April on a wave of optimism and goodwill.

An affable, likeable man, he was considered capable of lifting flagging morale within the force while presenting externally a more people-friendly image.

Sadly, Mr Quallo goes into retirement less than a year later amidst reports of a distinctly uneasy relationship with the political directorate and a surging murder rate which has necessitated a state of public emergency in Jamaica's tourism capital, Montego Bay, and the wider St James.

Such is the rate of violent crime in other areas — including Westmoreland, Clarendon, St Catherine and the nation's capital, Kingston — that there are legitimate questions as to whether emergency powers shouldn't be handed to the security forces across the country.

Inevitably, the commissioner of police takes heat when there is a hike in crime. But it would be irrational to place the current crime wave at the feet of Mr Quallo.

Violent crime has been a major problem in Jamaica since the 1960s and, while there have been statistical dips along the way, the general trend has been for the problem to get steadily worse.

The reasons are many — including the growth of a gun culture spurred by political tribalism of the '60s, '70s and '80s; social and economic decay; the glaring inequality between the haves and have-nots; and rampant corruption at all levels including within the JCF.

This newspaper has been among those pointing to obvious ways of resolving the problem, including for the political parties to join hands to tackle a monster which they helped to create; comprehensive mobilisation of communities to support the police in facing down criminals; and an allied programme of comprehensive social reform which, for example, should ensure that not just most, but all Jamaica's children are properly cared for, educated, and socialised.

Crucially, the leadership of the constabulary must accelerate efforts to stamp out corruption within the force. For example, persistent whispers of police being intricately complicit in scamming operations in western Jamaica are frightening.

All the above aside, any policeman or policewoman can testify that inadequacy of material and personnel resources to fight crime is a major problem. In a real sense, police are being given basket to carry water. That has contributed to low morale and the alarming rate of attrition.

The cock-up in the Government's handling of a deal to purchase used motor vehicles for police use and the perceived insensitive response by the cash-strapped Administration to police wage demands have made matters worse.

Whoever gets the job as police commissioner to replace Mr Quallo will have all of the above on his/her plate, and more.

Clearly the appointment of Mr Quallo was only meant to be interim, given that his retirement was nigh.

It would be ideal for his successor to be relatively young with the prospect of years in the top job to more easily facilitate long-term planning and strategising. Obviously the new commissioner should also have the breadth of knowledge and capacity to cope with the many complexities; and the strength of personality to resist would-be manipulators, especially those in the Government and Opposition.

It wouldn't be ideal, but if it's felt that the best candidate is to be found outside the constabulary, then so be it.

That person should be chosen and appointed at the soonest possible. Jamaica does not have time on its side.

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