PM says criticism of police must be balanced with reality

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says despite criticisms that crime-fighting strategies have failed, the Jamaica Constabulary Force should be commended for bringing to book some of the most dangerous gangs in the country, using limited resources.

He said the arguments about ineffectiveness of the police and lack of resources must be balanced with reality.

“This police force has brought several of the most dangerous gangs – gangs that were formerly protected, when we could have taken action to undermine them, erode them, displace them. But this force, even without the exceptional powers of an SOE (state of emergency), invested significant time and resources to build cases. I don’t think the public understands that an entire police division has to be built, then put to investigate, for months [and] years, then we have to put up witnesses and protect them, then we have to properly document and build a case and take it to court. When was that done before?” Holness said yesterday, during a press conference where he announced the declaration of states of public emergency in seven police divisions.

The prime minister said there was no question as to whether the Government is investing in standard policing but this will not bring instantaneous results and in the interim, the murder rate continues to skyrocket. “That is the definition then of an emergency and we have to act,” he remarked, in defence of the SOEs and questions of constitutionality of the continued use of the measure as a crime-fighting tool.He pointed out that the police are being asked to respond to what is essentially a social dilemma: “The problem is deeper than a security one, indeed I believe we have solved the security element of the problem. I believe we have made sufficient reform to the police force in terms of their intelligence gathering, investigative and their policing capabilities”.

However, he stressed the propensity for violence in the society is not a policing problem, but a social malaise. “Until we recognise that violence is similar in nature to a pandemic, to a disease and we agree that the same principle that we have applied in the pandemic where we declare it as an emergency, then we are going to ask the police to solve a problem that has started in the breakdown of our families and our communities and national leadership and the degeneration of morality and civility in the society,” he stated.As for the constitutionality of SOEs and the pending court cases, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte said a distinction must be made between a challenge on the facts of a specific case under the emergency powers law, and a challenge to the legislation itself.

“The case that is before the court did not rule the SOE unconstitutional. Issues were raised about referencing to the constitution…so far as the referencing issue, the Parliament has acted to correct that reference,” she said, pointing to the recent passage of amendments to the Emergency Powers Act by Parliament.The parliamentary Opposition has said that the bringing of the Bill to the House, while related matters were pending in court, shows a lack of respect for the separation of powers, and the proper role of the judiciary as guardian of the constitution.

“The matter of the constitutionality of the use of SOEs as a crime-fighting tool, which as I have said is fundamentally intertwined with the regulations made under the Emergency Powers Act, is squarely before the courts. Parliament should first see what the Court of Appeal has to say about this important matter. To be amending the Emergency Powers Act now, an enactment which is integral to, and will be impacted by, the court challenge to the Government’s use of the SOEs, is premature and presumptuous,” Opposition Leader Mark Golding said, during the debate last month.

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