The public ought not to hold its
breath on the expectation that it will hear much more, or certainly not the
gritty details, about last week’s ‘friendly fire’ shooting in Clarendon of two
policemen from the constabulary’s Organised Crime Investigation Division. By
now, much carpet sweeping has begun taking place and the perceived detritus,
comprised mostly of facts and evidence of regulatory failures, will most likely
end up under the rug.
That will be wrong and unfortunate.
For, last Thursday’s incident near Glenmuir merely served to confirm two
notorious facts about the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that help to
undermine public trust in the organisation, as well as contribute to its
inability to adequately deal with the crisis of crime in the country.
First, we dare say that the
incident near Glenmuir suggests that lack of trust is deepening even within the
JCF. That, perversely, may be a good thing. The concern among the untainted
members of the force may reach such a critical mass that they may feel
compelled to seriously attack the problem.
Great distrust within the ranks
Last week’s friendly fire shooting,
we remind, was one of the outcomes of the investigation into the kidnapping of
a 16-year-old Clarendon girl, taken from a taxi on her way to school.
Investigators from the OCID went to Clarendon to probe the crime and, ultimately,
set a trap to catch the kidnappers as they collected the ransom.
The OCID appears not to have
informed the Clarendon police of their presence or to have given them
information on the operation. It is not difficult to comprehend why. Criminality
has risen sharply in Clarendon. Many people question the trust-worthiness of
some of the police in that parish and the elements with whom they might have
cast their lot. Recent allegations of police officers in Clarendon escorting
people accused of crimes and being involved in gang-on-gang fire fights have
not helped matters.
Against that background, the OCID
may have feared that its operation would have been compromised if they had
shared any information, even of their presence, with their Clarendon
colleagues. Or, to put it bluntly, they do not trust the Clarendon police.
Police use of force
The second point in this tragic
comedy is the spotlight it places on the police’s use-of-force policy, or the
failure to comply with it. Last year, Jamaica’s police shot and killed 145
people. In some years, that figure has been substantially higher.
The usual explanation by the constabulary
for police homicides is that they were shot at by suspicious-looking persons
and they returned the fire. The alleged criminals usually die and guns and
ammunition recovered. Much of this is true. But there are far too many credible
reports of what amounts to extrajudicial killings by the police or evidence of
sheer ignorance in the use of deadly force.
What happened at Glenmuir may have
helped the critics’ case, unless the Clarendon cops can convincingly argue that
while they might have mistaken the OCID investigators for the kidnappers, they
fully observed the rules on use of force before opening fire. In some cases,
this would probably be an easy sell. We are not so sure in the current case –
that is, if the carpet cleaners are not allowed their way.