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Ellington defends right of J'cans to police information

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, November 02, 2012    

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OWEN Ellington is unapologetic about opening up the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to more public scrutiny. His reason is simple: The JCF, he says, costs the country $30 billion annually to operate, therefore the Jamaican people — as one of the police force's stakeholders — have a right to know what is happening within the organisation.

Ellington, the police commissioner, was responding to critics who, he said, opposed his decision to share more police information, such as the weekly force orders, with the country.

"The population can't be satisfied with statistics alone," Ellington told a leadership forum for senior police staff at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel Tuesday morning.

The forum, held under the theme 'A New Era in Policing — Transforming the Constabulary' — formed part of the JCF's strategic review project and was attended by representatives of various organisations.

Arguing that the police can contribute value, Commissioner Ellington said that the output of the organisation "can no longer be based on the standards of measurement we set for the departments, such as patrolling the streets; responding to calls for service; investigating crimes; arresting suspected offenders; regulating traffic; responding to citizens' complaints and requests for assistance; handling crowds and demonstrations and responding to emergencies".

He listed an enhanced sense of public security, increased usefulness of public spaces and facilities, and the raising of individual property values as among the set of desired social outcomes that constitute the ultimate justification for policing.

The commissioner also said that one particular social result of policing which must be viewed simultaneously as an end in itself as well as a means to a desired end, is legitimacy.

That legitimacy, he said, is the measure of how citizens judge their police department to be fair, honest and competent or trustworthy.

"If police services are offered courteously and responsively, then those who receive the services will value the police more," Ellington said.

"If the police do their enforcement work in a way that feels fair to the citizens who are the focus of police operations, those who are witnesses to them and those in whose name the police act, the police are likely to enjoy greater degrees of legitimacy than if they are seen to be brutal, callous or indifferent to the right of suspects," he added.

That legitimacy, he also argued, is a valuable means of combatting crime.

"The success of the police in controlling crime depends critically on assistance from individual private citizens. If citizens do not trust police motives or capabilities, they will withhold their support," he said. "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."

The commissioner then suggested that his senior officers appreciate the changing role of policing and accept that "policing must generate value, not just figures".

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