Saturday, June 07, 2008
THE entire nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when the prime minister reported to Parliament that Rear-Admiral Hardley Lewin had withdrawn his resignation and would continue as commissioner of police. This sigh of relief was appropriate and consistent with the belief of many that the country was not able to sustain such uncertainty in the top echelons of law enforcement, especially against the background of the spiralling murder rate in the country.
As one who has been very critical of how the commissioner has been doing aspects of his job, I welcome back the commissioner to his post, with certain caveats. The fact that the commissioner has returned to his post does not mean that the problems that he identified and which led to his resignation have disappeared. For example, he cited problems with getting the support of the rank-and-file in the force. This is a problem to which I have consistently called attention, for there is the realisation that no leader of any organisation can do a successful job, if he does not have the support of the men and women under his leadership. This is not only true of the police force, but also of the church, the school, business and civic organisations and other human groupings.
A great deal of the job of building morale in the force lies with the commissioner of police. He must set the tone and gather the men and women under his command around a common set of principles and a clear vision of the direction in which he wants to take the force. Commissioner Lewin came to the force in an atmosphere of suspicion and disenchantment among the rank-and-file. Many felt that he was being imposed on the force not having come up through the ranks. The fact that Commissioner Lewin was coming from the army and had knowledge of certain techniques that might be used in fighting crime, did not mitigate this concern.
If Commissioner Lewin is willing to admit it, he will admit that his public rhetorical outbursts when he first came to the job did nothing to win friends and influence the rankand-file. If anything, they exacerbated suspicion and distrust and heightened tensions. Although the tensions have not evaporated, having returned, he now has a golden opportunity to make a fresh start. He must use wisely what I would describe as the "empathy capital" that will come to him consequent on his return. There are those in the force who would wish he did not return, but the overwhelming majority is willing to give him a chance. There are still many reasonable men and women in the force and it does the commissioner no good to alienate them by painting them with wide swipes of a "corruption" or "criminal" brush.
He must grasp the extended hands and seek to build a relationship with those extending them. If you are going to be in relationship with people it cannot be on your terms only. The views of those who you wish to be in relationship with, however obnoxious and however much they may veer away from yours, must be listened to and respected. In other words, Mr Commissioner, every single member of the force must be made to feel by you that he or she matters and that they are stakeholders in the force you wish to build. Again, speak softly and carry a big stick.
In the meantime, the prime minister has announced that bold initiatives are coming to fight crime. You will forgive me if I sound a bit cynical in saying that we have heard of these bold initiatives in the past and the murder problem has only got worse. Who can forget the "bold initiatives" embarked on by the Manley regime in the 1970s to fight crimes committed by the gun? Can we forget the infamous gun court and the facility that was built to incarcerate perpetrators of gun violence?
Remember that it was painted red because it was intended to be dread. And what of the equally infamous Suppression of Crime Act which was the seed that has now flowered into the massive distrust and contempt with which the police is held by many, especially in the inner-city areas today.
What of the tried and failed policies of the subsequent JLP regime and those of the PNP that presided over the worst murder rate in the 18 years they were in office? The point I am making is that we have heard of these initiatives before, but what has changed, and what will change this time around? What we have done is to respond sporadically to flare-ups of murder, and as soon as things die down we go back to sleep in complacency that we do not have to worry.
Today, things are different. Year by year the murder rate grows, not only in sophistication, but in bestial cruelty. Because we have not treated the crime problem as a national crisis, we have not given it the sustained attention that it demands and so we react in knee-jerks with "bold initiatives" that seem not to drive any fear in the heart of the Jamaican brand of murderer that our society has cultivated and nourished over the years. Yes, there are elements of the crime problem that will require strong and resolute measures, but the law enforcement arm of government must be given the resources to do the job that they have put their lives on the line to do. A comprehensive view must be taken of the wellbeing of the men and women in the force in terms of remuneration, living conditions and the general environment in which they have to operate. A greater burden is placed on the government of the day to lead, to set the national tone that will inspire all well-thinking Jamaicans to join in the fight against crime. We cannot fail. We dare not fail, for to fail is to create a Jamaica run by a criminal enterprise.
stead 6655 @aol .com