Jamaica facing critical choice

With the departure of the commissioner of police and the chief of staff of the Jamaica Defence Force, the leadership of our entire national security apparatus is about to be renewed.

This is occurring in a context in which the murder rate has sharply increased and allegations of police brutality have become more serious than ever.

In such a situation, it is impossible for the process of choosing our new security leadership to be approached in a routine manner. On the contrary, the occasion must be seized to undertake a comprehensive examination of the causes for the deterioration in our security and justice situation and then to choose a new leadership which is adequate to meet the unprecedented challenges which are before us.

Law, order and justice are the foundations of any functional social order and the maintenance of these is the very first duty of the State. Not a single one of our many economic or social problems can be effectively addressed unless we get on top of our high murder rate and the repeated cases of police abuse of citizens.

Since it is the police force which bears the day-to-day brunt of the fight against criminality and is at the centre of the police brutality storm, the choice of the new commissioner of police is of particular importance. This is perhaps the most challenging leadership position in Jamaica today, exceeded in importance only by the offices of Governor-General and Prime Minister.

It is, therefore, vital that the choice to fill the post of commissioner be drawn from the widest possible pool of available talent.

We understand the views which have been expressed by sections of the police force that the new commissioner must be drawn from within the ranks. There certainly are capable and talented officers to be found within the force who definitely need to be within the pool from which the new leader will be selected. But, we cannot agree that the pool must be limited to such persons.

If we were in normal times or even experiencing a reduction in our murder rate and the incidence of police brutality, the country could entertain such sentiments. But that is not the situation in which the country finds itself – quite the contrary. Criminality has degenerated to the point where babies are being killed with impunity. In such a situation of direct challenge to law and order it would be fatal to approach the selection of a new commissioner with a narrow-craft spirit.

We owe it to the citizens of Jamaica to cast the net as widely as possible in the country as a whole so that the very best person is chosen, whether from the security or civilian sectors.

The urgency of choosing a new commissioner should not lead the Police Services Commission to act with undue haste. The selection process cannot be approached as a bureaucratic exercise blindly following standard operating procedures. This should be an occasion for deep and creative deliberation of a far-reaching nature.

A great responsibility rests on the shoulder of the commission. The entire society is depending on them to get this one right.

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