Wed | Sep 30, 2020

Editorial | Hugh Faulkner’s mandate

Published:Monday | August 3, 2020 | 12:07 AM

Hugh Faulkner won’t escape comparisons with Terrence Williams, his predecessor and the only other person, so far, to hold the post of commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that probes complaints of misconduct against members of the security forces.

Mr Williams stepped down at the end of July, after a decade as the commissioner. Mr Faulkner has a difficult act to follow. For, not only did Mr Williams define INDECOM and, by extension, his own role within it, he won broad public buy-in for his vision of the institution. He also gained the loyalty of his staff, exemplified by their social media posts on his last day on the job. Mr Williams, they said, pursued “a transformative framework for accountability” at the agency.

Added the staff: “He served with unwavering dedication in promoting and fostering access to justice for all, led the commission with integrity and respect, and insisted on the continued development of staff. For these and so much more, we salute our first leader and extend our deepest gratitude. We promise to continue this difficult but critical work that was started 10 years ago.”

Terrence Williams earned those accolades.

INDECOM, we remind, was the outcome of a decades-old perception that Jamaica’s security forces, especially the police, behaved with impunity, and had defeated previous attempts, including by presumably autonomous bodies, to hold them accountable. One measure of INDECOM’s success is the data on police homicides.

DECLINE IN POLICE KILLINGS

In the year of its launch, 2010, Jamaica’s police killed 277 people, around 10 per 100,000, among the highest ratios of police homicides in the world. These numbers were explained as the result of confrontations with criminals, although most were disputed as extrajudicial killings, or poorly planned and/or carelessly executed police operations. Last year, there were 86 police killings, a tumble of 69 per cent from a decade earlier.

A number of factors contributed to this decline in police killings, including, we believe, some effort within the constabulary to hold its members accountable. But the greater cause was INDECOM, with its stronger powers and independent capacity to investigate complaints.

Even more critical, in our view, was the presence of Terrence Williams at the helm of the organisation. He imbued INDECOM with assuredness and a sense of mission, in the exercise of which he displayed personal bravery. Indeed, he was willing, via judicial process, to test the jurisdiction and powers of INDECOM and lost some battles, including the agency’s contention of its right of arrest and to independently prosecute security force members who used excessive force and abused citizens’ rights.

Nonetheless, Mr Williams, as his staff said, established INDECOM as an organisation that promoted and fostered access to justice.

DIFFERENT TEMPERAMENTS

Our larger point is that Mr Williams came to the job with a clear point of view, upon which he acted.

This is necessary for institutions like INDECOM in a society with low levels of trust for authority, where the voices of the people mostly served by these institutions are the least likely to be heard. Mr Faulkner has not yet declared his point of view. We do not expect him to be Terrence Williams. Their temperaments are obviously different.

Mr Faulkner, however, would be aware that the fundamental mission cannot be different: protecting the rights of citizens against abuse by those agents of the State authorised to exercise its coercive powers. He must know, too, of the ongoing efforts by the police to whittle away at INDECOM’s authority and neuter its effectiveness for oversight. He must not allow that to happen.

Indeed, Hugh Faulkner’s goal must be to expand INDECOM as an institution in which Jamaicans have faith and through which they can expect their rights to be protected.