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INDECOM must not become a toothless tiger

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WE'RE not surprised at the difficulties being experienced by Mr Terrence Williams and his team at the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) as highlighted in his report to Parliament last week.

The issue of loyalty among squad members, in particular, is a feature of most police departments worldwide. In some jurisdictions, it's known as the 'Blue Code of Silence' or the 'Blue Shield'. Here in Jamaica we have dubbed it the 'Squaddie Mentality'.

Basically, it's an unwritten agreement among cops not to report crimes, misconduct or mistakes committed by their colleagues.

In his quarterly report to the Legislature, Commissioner Williams states that one of the challenges being faced by INDECOM is the issue of collusion.

"It is striking that in all of our current cases, no member of the security forces implicates themselves or their colleagues in misconduct. Perhaps an explanation may be the ease with which agents of the state may collude before giving a statement," Mr Williams said.

"Based on close examination of statements, it would not be inaccurate to say that the facts seem to always absolve the officers involved in the incidents, as well as their colleagues," he added.

We can't help but feel some amount of empathy for Mr Williams and his investigators as they try to fulfil their mandate to probe allegations of police abuse.

For, as Mr Williams also reported, allegations of fatal shooting, assault and shooting injury account for more than 60 per cent of the 1,178 cases now before INDECOM.

Add to that Mr Williams' statement that only in four per cent of the total number of fatalities being investigated do the citizens' accounts of the incidents coincide with those submitted by the police, as well as his revelation that members of the security forces are still wearing concealment gear on operations, and you get an appreciation of the difficulties facing INDECOM.

Overcoming those hurdles will not be easy. In fact, we submit that INDECOM will always be faced with the 'Squaddie Mentality', as that is driven by a tribal value system that engenders a belief among colleagues that they have a duty to protect each other based on issues of self-interest.

We don't, however, believe that all is lost. For we have seen over the past few years, strong and decisive action being taken by the police force against corrupt cops.

We are even aware of instances in which cops who have made grave errors have been slapped with stiff sanctions outside the public spotlight.

So, as we said, there is hope, a lot of which lies in the resolve of the current Police Commissioner Mr Owen Ellington to transform the constabulary into a highly professional body with integrity.

Naturally, Commissioner Ellington's reform agenda will not be achieved overnight, as it requires a huge culture shift. However, we are encouraged that at least a good start has been made.

Our more pressing concern though, is with the complaint by Mr Williams that INDECOM still faces resource challenges. As we have argued in this space before, any serious effort at investigating allegations of police abuse will require a lot of money and the political will to ensure that INDECOM is not a toothless tiger.

Despite our economic challenges, this is an issue the Government needs to address urgently.

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