Public Trust and Public Support: The INDECOM Commissioner Explains The Connection

I touched on this issue in a recent post, and am happy to say that I now have the complete text of a speech by Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Terrence Williams to the Rotary Club on Mandeville on August 11, 2015. I am sharing this with you, because I feel Mr. Williams makes some very important points affecting our democracy and the human rights situation in Jamaica. Your comments are welcome, of course.

You can contact INDECOM’s new Tip and Incident lines, LIME – 1-888-991-5555 and DIGICEL – 1-888-935-5550.  Its offices are located at: Headquarters & Eastern Regional Office, 1A Dumfries Road, Kingston 10. Western Regional Office: Praise Concourse Plaza, 18 Queens Drive, Montego Bay, St. James. Tel: 940-2310. Central Regional Office: Cobblestone Professional Centre, Unit 10, 1 Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester. Tel: 961-8453, 961-1542, 961- 4171. email: or indecom@cwjamaica. 

Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations Terrence Williams addressing Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Mandeville. (Photo: Gregory Bennett/Jamaica Observer)
Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations Terrence Williams addressing Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Mandeville. (Photo: Gregory Bennett/Jamaica Observer)

Public Trust and Public Support: Making the Connection

To tackle crime, we need a professional police force that enjoys broad public support. This public support can only come where there is a widespread perception that the members of the force are accountable for their actions; and that corrupt and oppressive conduct will be detected and corrected, rather than condoned. We must therefore identify the oppressive conduct and corrupt conduct.

We should not hear any argument or, give any store to any argument, that pointing out possible oppressive and corrupt conduct erodes the morale of the force. It is the misconduct that erodes the morale, not the investigation of the misconduct. Indeed, when we point out the problems in the Constabulary Force we don’t do so to bash them but to seek improvement in their conduct because we know that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is an important organisation. We look to them to solve the problem of crime which has, for many years, been the major problem for Jamaicans.

In 2008 a Strategic Review was done of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. It was done by the Ministry of National Security and they sought international experts, local experts, members of the Force. It had great cooperation. The Report is an official document which you can download from the internet if you so choose. They found that the police in Jamaica was distant from the community because of general distrust and perceptions of corruption; and that this distrust hinders police investigations. That is the connection I am talking about, between public trust and public support. They found that one of the dominant cultures in the JCF was one of corruption. They found that the squad culture reigned in the JCF, where some members would always respond to the needs of someone they were trained with even if it meant violating ethical or legal boundaries. They found uniformly that Jamaicans, no matter their background, wanted a more trusting relationship with their police force. They wanted to be treated with respect for human rights and to see corruption eradicated. They were calling for a change in the culture.

The Strategic Review said that in a democracy, a police service is best able to carry out its functions when the members enjoy the respect and confidence of the population. The Strategic Review opined that the JCF lost much support because of the actions of some of its members. They pointed to certain endemic corrupt acts and practices. This is a sad tale of endemic practices but we have to repeat them so that we can correct them. What they found was endemic corruption, contract killings, engaging with gangs, planting evidence, trafficking in weapons and extortion. They said that these practices will take many years to be eradicated.

That Strategic Review recommended that INDECOM be formed, and formed quickly. They found that the previous investigative bodies were not working properly. They lacked sufficient authority to compel the police to cooperate. They found that there was a conflict of interest with the police investigating their colleagues. This finding of the Strategic Review was consistent with findings of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights case regarding Jamaica. The rights in our constitution are a façade if you do not have a proper independent investigation of allegations of breaches of those rights. It makes no sense that you say that we have the right to life when the investigation of the taking of life is not done by an independent body, a body which will have no conflict of interest. This is the kind of arrangement which builds a perception of fairness.

In the same way you would not want to have a case in court where you have a complaint against John Brown and on the jury you see John Brown’s sister or John Brown’s friend. You would say: “That doesn’t look right, that cannot be fair. I want an impartial jury to try my case.” In the same way if a police officer is involved in a shooting, you need someone separate from the Force to be involved and to run that investigation. I thought I wouldn’t need to have said that after five years of INDECOM being here, but it is good sometimes to repeat this for some to understand why there is an INDECOM. Indeed, on a more trivial note, for a long time now in cricket matches you don’t have umpires from the West Indies umpiring West Indies’ matches because these umpires, I am sure are men of integrity, but if they make a wrong call the first thing that will be said is that they made the wrong call because they are from the West Indies.

So we are set about this work in the last five years, and we realised from the very start that INDECOM was a unique organisation of civilian oversight of the police. There is no civilian oversight body anywhere in the world which investigates the number of homicides that INDECOM investigates. And I am not talking per capita. I am saying there is no investigative body of civilian oversight that investigates the amount of homicides that INDECOM investigates.

Baroness Nuala O'Loan of Kirkinriola in the Country of Antrim was the first Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. She sits on the House of Lords Joint Committee for Human Rights. (Photo: Daniel Morgan Independent Panel website)
Baroness Nuala O’Loan of Kirkinriola in the Country of Antrim was the first Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. She sits on the House of Lords Joint Committee for Human Rights. (Photo: Daniel Morgan Independent Panel website)

A few years ago we had Baroness O’Loan here. She was from the Northern Ireland, a country which for generations was divided in civil strife, had a significant crime problem and lots of arms in the hands of civilians. They have a body like INDECOM; it is called the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland. I asked her: “In your seven year tenure, how many fatalities did you investigate?” You know what she told me? Four in seven years!

In Jamaica, before last year, we averaged 200 police-involved fatalities every single year for a decade. We recognised that this high rate of police-involved homicide required that we investigate these events in a way which was particularly compliant with all of the international principles. It required that we be a 24/7 organisation, that our investigators leave the peace and safety of their homes and go into dangerous areas all hours of the night. I am forever indebted to the investigators of INDECOM who gave the service and continue to give this service without murmur. and I ask you to join me in applauding them.

Last year marked a significant change. The decade long experience of over two hundred killings per year ended last year when it went even below 150. This year, at the mid-year mark, there were 50 killings involving the police. So, if the second half of the year is like the first half, we may see a year of about 100 police involved killings; a significant decline over what had become common over the last decade.

But some persons are saying that this decrease in police shootings is somehow affecting the police in how they do their work. An argument which I am not sure that I understand. Let us consider it. The police in Jamaica have very good and high principles. Their policies record and note all of the proper principles regarding the use of force. Deadly force must be used as a last resort, that is their principle and it’s the international principle. It must be reasonably proportionate in defending yourself or defending others. So if the rate of fatal shootings has declined, it must be that they are organising themselves, that is the JCF, in a better way to limit, as much as is in their power, resort to deadly force. They should be applauded for so doing.

It could not mean that they are not defending themselves or defending others because, if it were so, we would have heard that. It could not be that they are sitting in the station and not leaving when required to do so by the Sergeant or the Inspector. If it were so we would have heard that and there would be, I am sure, disciplinary action against them. It is not clear to me how respect for life, how obeying your own principles of using deadly force can cause you to be ineffective. The police must abide by the law. The law enforcer must first be someone who complies with the law.

In this next five years of INDECOM, we intend to reach out to the good men and women of the JCF, of which there are many, to attempt at reaching understanding about the work of INDECOM and to make this connection as to how fostering public trust in the force will assist them in their jobs. Despite the abundance of truth and understanding, it is troubling that sometimes falsehood and misunderstanding still finds a way to intervene.

We meet with the police high command regularly, in fact today there was one such meeting. We have had meetings with the Police Federation regularly. They know that if they have any complaint, it can be made to us and we will deal with it. In the last five years, how many complaints of instances of improper conduct do you think the police made to INDECOM? The answer is none. In the last five years, there has not been a single complaint of overzealous INDECOM investigators of improper conduct; not a single complaint. When we meet we try to ensure that there is an appreciation of the work of INDECOM. If there is a misunderstanding, we sort it out in our meetings. It is sad that despite this process, you still have falsehoods being uttered.

It is said by some influential police officers that INDECOM takes away the rights of police officers and that we have charged police officers who have exercised their constitutional right not to self-incriminate. Both assertions are false. The INDECOM Act does not currently compel any self-incrimination. When a police officer is asked to give a statement, the document on which we request the statement from him tells him that he cannot be compelled to give any answer which will incriminate him. The document says so. When they come to INDECOM before we question them. the first thing we tell them is – you cannot be compelled to answer any question which incriminates you. Despite this, we hear this falsehood being repeated.

It is further troubling because the issue went before the Constitutional Court here in Jamaica where eight police officers brought a case in court to say that their being asked to give a statement to, and to answer questions from, INDECOM was unconstitutional. Three judges sat on the case and the unanimous decision was there was no breach of their constitutional rights. Why then having this decision now some three years ago, is this falsehood being perpetuated? It must be realised that this kind of falsehood foments dissent in the Force, encourages disregard for the laws of Jamaica and sets back any attempt, which we are valiantly trying to do, to make the relationship between INDECOM and the police better.

Another argument that we often hear is that INDECOM disarms police officers on the street and puts them in danger. This argument was made and even sent in a document to Parliament. We pointed out to Parliament, and it was accepted, that this was a falsehood. Indeed, INDECOM does not disarm police officers. Any police officer would be disarmed by his colleague and any such disarming is always done at a police station.

The trouble is we have a situation where, when the INDECOM Act was being set up, some members of the JCF were not in support of the powers that INDECOM currently has; and they lobbied for INDECOM not to have those powers. After the Act was passed they lobbied for those powers to be taken away. Parliament did not agree with them. They took the matter to court, for the court to say that these powers are unconstitutional or unlawful. The court did not agree with them.

There comes a time when members of the force must realise that they are part of a disciplined organisation, and a disciplined organisation means that you must comply with the laws of the country. After you have taken the steps to lobby for change and the change has not come; you have taken the step to take it to court and you have lost the case in court; the time now comes to comply with the law. You cannot be part of a disciplined organisation and try to encourage your members, who will hear you, to disregard the law or to try to weaken their resolve by falsehood and fearmongering.

Stirring up fear and resentment by polemics and false assertion must cause anxiety.   This more than anything else may lower morale in the force. It is now time to recognise that INDECOM is the law of the land and for there to be compliance.

You may wonder how it is now different from what was there before. INDECOM is not the first organisation that investigates police alleged misconduct. You had the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI); you had the Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA). There were these bodies doing it before. What is the big difference? Well, a major part of the difference is that we at INDECOM require that the police give prompt statements. Before this the BSI and the PPCA were hobbled in their work by delays by the police in giving statements. Months would pass with no statement from the police.

The case of Michael Gayle, a mentally ill man who was beaten to death by security forces in 1999 in Olympic Gardens, was one of the first taken up by the newly-formed Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). In this Gleaner file photo, Dr Carolyn Gomes (right), executive director of JFJ and Edward Hamm, brother of Michael Gayle, address a press conference.. - File
The case of Michael Gayle, a mentally ill man who was beaten to death by security forces in 1999 in Olympic Gardens, was one of the first taken up by the newly-formed Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). In this Gleaner file photo, Dr Carolyn Gomes (right), executive director of JFJ and Edward Hamm, brother of Michael Gayle, address a press conference.

In the Michael Gayle case, one week passed before a statement was collected in the death of that young man. When it went to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights they said one week was far too long to be collecting statements from the police and soldiers involved. Jamaica had breached the right to life. In a case from Holland, they took three days to collect the statements and the European court said three days was far too long. INDECOM could not be organised in a way where we did what we knew was wrong. We could not accept that we were going to wait three days. We had to organise a regime where statements were prompt.

Prompt statements reduce the chance for collusion. Prompt statements mean that the case can be ended with some expedition and persons will not have long delays for their case to be completed. The members of the force have to get used to that, because that is what the law of Jamaica is, when we are talking about the right to life of the citizen.

I am asking influential members of the force to put aside falsehood and fear-mongering. If you have a genuine complaint against INDECOM or its members, make it formally. That is why you are there; to keep an eye on us to make sure that we act properly. But do not make false claims.

We hope that they will commit themselves to proper conduct, the kind of conduct which led many of them to join the force. That members of the force will feel that they can report their colleagues when their colleagues have acted improperly. Do not think of yourself as having a bond of secrecy where I cover for you and you cover for me. At the end of the day you will end up with police force that will not have public trust.

You must feel no compulsion to cover up or to lie. Let the public regard you as a service to Jamaica. Let the public have pride in the police force, and with that confidence the public will support the force.

The vast majority of Jamaicans want a society of peace and order and with the JCF being a proud and disciplined organisation, they will fall behind you. The vast majority will. This is achieved by detecting and correcting improper conduct, and by improving policies and practices. INDECOM seeks to enforce the laws of Jamaica and the rules of the JCF. We don’t make up any laws, so when we investigate and seek to enforce these laws, there is no need for you, who seek to obey the laws and abide by the policies of the force, to feel any anxiety.

You join to serve and uphold the law. A full investigation of your actions should not deter you. Be proud of your service and of the noble reasons why you joined the force. Let no one distract you from it. It is the members who engage in improper conduct who can lower morale. Speak out against them. It is falsehood that can lower morale. Propagate truth.

In the next five years we are going to reach out to these good men and women to replace misinformation with the truth, and to encourage understanding and cooperation. We want to have good relations with the police. We want those who utter falsehood, those who try to create division and to foster fear to check what they are doing. No longer promote disregard for the laws of Jamaica and discourage cooperation. This cannot be permitted to happen.

Public support comes from public trust; make the connection.

New recruits graduating from the Jamaica Police Academy in December, 2013. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)
New recruits graduating from the Jamaica Police Academy in December, 2013. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)




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