Tue | Jul 14, 2020

Knife sticking INDECOM stuck me - Lewin

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
In this 2013 photo, members of INDECOM were caught on site in Denham Town West Kingston after two men were killed by the police.
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin

Early into the job, former Commissioner of Police Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin said he faced the same backlash the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is getting, namely, that its push to cut police fatal shootings is demoralising members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

"The Tuesday - day two on the job - I asked for a list of all police officers who had been involved in five or more fatal shootings in the past two years - not whether they fired or not [but] whether they were there as part of the team," Lewin told a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Tuesday. The forum was held to examine the recommendations of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

"I got a list of about 22 officers, including a

superintendent and a deputy superintendent - two gazetted officers. I got that by the Friday. I said, 'I want all of them at my office the following week Thursday'. I dealt with the officers separately and I read them the riot act. Fatal shootings nosedived."

Lewin became the 26th police commissioner on December 17, 2007, three years before INDECOM was established to respond to public concerns about police excess and transparency in investigating them.

But "the same knife that's sticking INDECOM now stuck me," said Lewin, who served as head of the Jamaica Defence Force before his appointment as police chief.

"The narrative was that my leadership style is causing the police to be demoralised, so they have dropped hands, and as a consequence, crime is spiralling out of control. I got stuck by that. I keep telling policemen who I speak to when they talk about and complain, that look, INDECOM was a consequence of the police failing to deal with their own issues."

INDECOM 'not really a solution'

Lewin, who resigned in 2009, shared his story after Professor Anthony Clayton, an expert on local security, told the forum that INDECOM "is not really a solution" for institutional problems afflicting the police force.

"INDECOM is picking up the problems after they've already occurred," Clayton said. "What we really need to do is emphasise the more low-key, but essentially preventive, measures because if you have good systems, better systems of training, accountability, oversight, and management in place, a lot of these problems wouldn't occur in the first place."

Over the six years of its establishment, INDECOM and the police have had a rough relationship, characterised by complaints that the oversight body is "overzealous" and affecting police work.

Politicians are still debating whether to set up an oversight body for INDECOM.

Last month, National Security Minister Robert Montague acknowledged police concerns about INDECOM and announced in Parliament that the police force and INDECOM were to sign an agreement to govern the engagement of both groups.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry and human rights lobbyist Susan Goffe, who also participated in the forum, insisted that INDECOM remains an "essential" part of the efforts to transform the police force.

"It is an essential part of the solution because as we have seen, where there is no accountability, the things (excesses) continue as always. From their data, they (INDECOM) produce reports that highlight trends within the police force, weakness, things that can result in abuse," Goffe argued.

According to INDECOM, 1,918 civilians were killed by members of the security forces between 1999 and 2009, with the highest single-year figure - 272 - recorded in 2007.

The figure dropped to 224 in 2008 before jumping again to 263 the following year.

Last year's figure of 106 was the lowest in years.