Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | July 22, 2009
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Effectively managing the police force


The following are excerpts from MP Peter Bunting's recent contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament.

There is a proposal being worked on which involves a fundamental and pro-found overhaul of the governance and supervision arrangements for the police force. It is not generally appreciated that it is an initiative of the Opposition. Let me explain.

On reading the Report of the Strategic Review Committee, the first thing that struck me was that the majority of its 124 recommendations were matters that would be implemented by any competent CEO in the course of day-to-day management of an organisation. However, the existing organisational arrangements militate against holding the CEO (i.e. the Commissioner of Police) fully accountable for the performance of the police force since he does not effectively control the important management levers of personnel and finance. For a long time, it has been recognised that two major impediments to the effective management of the police force are the police commissioner's lack of control over:

1. Personnel decisions such as promotion, dismissal, and other disciplinary action. This has been made even more difficult by the precedents established by judicial review of the disciplinary actions of the commissioner and the Police Service Commission (PSC).

2. The capital budget of the police force. This is now administered by the Ministry of National Security and that separation is often blamed for delays in project implementation.

Opposition's view

Therefore, when the Govern-ment contacted the Opposition last year, seeking our view on the recommendation of the JCF Strategic Review that the PSC and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) should be merged, I recognised that this was an opportunity to make some radical and fundamental reforms in the governance structure of the police force. I discussed the matter with the leader of the opposition and other colleagues and they concurred. Thereafter, the Opposition replied that while the merger of these two bodies may represent an incremental improvement, it falls well short of what is required to achieve a modern and effective police force. Since the merger of the PSC and the PCOA would, in any event, require considerable time to amend the Constitution, then we should use that time to implement a comprehensive new arrangement for the governance of the police force.

The Opposition re-commended that the Government consider instead the estab-lishment of an entirely new statutory body - perhaps called the Police Services Authority (PSA) - and the act to establish the PSA would contain all the matters relating to management and accountability of the police. This would, of course, require other legislative measures to transfer the functions of the Police Service Commission and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority to the PSA.

This new act would also provide an opportunity to repeal the separate pieces of legislation establishing the Jamaica Consta-bulary Force (JCF), the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF), and the district constables and bring all police personnel under one umbrella.

In any event, there no longer seems any justification for maintaining the ISCF under a separate command structure since their personnel are now permanent, full time, pensionable employees and the parallel command structure must lead to inefficiencies in the field and in administration.

The strengthened powers of the commissioner would facilitate the disciplining and removal of the corrupt and criminal elements in the police. These rogue cops risk the lives and safety of the upstanding members of the police, the children in the society, and divide and undermine the force for personal greed.

Critical element

A critical element will be the composition and method of appointment of the board of the new Police Services Authority, and while not resolved, I believe the Electoral Commission provides a useful reference of how to insulate an organisation from partisan political control. In practice, some movement has already occurred in that direction since the membership of the last two Police Service Commissions have been appointed by 'agreement' between Government and Opposition which goes beyond the simple 'consultation' required in the Constitution. This bipartisan approach has resulted in the appointment of the current high calibre Police Service Commission. The police and the entire society can have confidence in the competence and integrity of these individuals.


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