Thu | Aug 16, 2018

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | Owning the crime plan

Published:Tuesday | February 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There is a deepening consensus that Jamaica needs not only a new police chief, but one with skills not usually perceived as being the most critical for the job. It should be someone of high intellect, versed in the modern techniques of management and with a track record of transformational leadership.

The presumption is that effectively confronting Jamaica's crisis of crime will demand more than old, tried-and-failed policing techniques, but requires new, agile thinking and the institutional transformation of a constabulary that is inefficient, corrupt, and resistant to change.

Yet, despite this broad agreement on the qualities to be possessed by the new police chief, there are unresolved questions of what should come first: the settlement of the anti-crime policy, or the person to execute that policy.

In other words, whose responsibility is it to solve the island's crime problem and who ought Jamaicans to hold accountable?

Governments usually pay a political price, or threats thereof, from the electorate when crime is rampant. So, we expect the Holness administration, having used the country's high crime rate to its advantage during the last election campaign, to be deeply worried about last year's nearly 20 per cent rise in homicides, to 1,616, as well as the 15 per cent jump in killings so far in 2018.

So, while, according to law, Robert Montague, the national security minister, "may give the commissioner directions as to the policy to be followed by the force", he has no say in directing the execution of those policies. Indeed, Section 3 (2) (a) of the Constabulary Force Act delegates to the commissioner of police "the sole operational command and superintendence of the force".

The clear demarcation of policy and operational command of the constabulary was instituted in the early 1990s - and not without good reason. Its intent was to end the old, notorious habit of ministers of politicising the day-to-day management of the constabulary and to insulate professional officers against their partisan interference. We support this position.

However, policing and crime management are not matters, especially in Jamaica, with a homicide rate of more than 60 per 100,000, on which governments can be aloof or distant. Indeed, crime reduction ought to be a top priority of the Holness administration, rather than appears to be the case, driving economic growth.

We hear and understand the argument held by many, and in the past strenuously articulated by the prime minister, that Jamaica's crime phenomenon is a result of poor economic performance and that strong growth would reverse the crime problem. We, however, believe that even if that was so in the past, the country has long moved beyond that construct. Economic growth now is more likely to be a by-product of social stability and lower crime rates.

In that regard, crime fighting and related policies should stand front, centre and back of the administration's efforts. Put another way, crime-fighting policies must come with the clear and full imprimatur of the prime minister.

However, such policies can't be crafted without the involvement of the police chief, who must also share ownership of them if we expect the outcomes to be institutionally and operationally transformative, and we expect managers of the quality of, say, Richard Byles, Patrick Hylton, or Jeffrey Hall, to occupy the job. Perchance this kind of transformational thinking has affected the Government, it needs clearer signals of its intention. It might begin the effort with moves to give the commissioner greater discretion in hiring and disciplining staff; the introduction of a civilian oversight body to which the police chief would be accountable for operations and policy; and a broad and transparent dialogue on efforts to enhance policing strategy and tactics.

But more critically, Prime Minister Holness has to show his willingness to expend some of his political capital on confronting crime.