Fri | Apr 20, 2018

Patria-Kaye Aarons | INDECOM is Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Published:Tuesday | March 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

My layman's mind doesn't quite see how last week's judgment by the Court of Appeal is a win for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams, claims to see it clearly. He did the media rounds last week Friday celebrating "victory" because, according to him, the court agreed that he and his staff can arrest, charge and prosecute. But only under common law.

How is that a win? I thought INDECOM was bull buck and duppy conqueror. The commissioner certainly behaved that way. I was under the impression that the INDECOM Act of 2010 gave INDECOM, as a body, total police powers over the men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force.

 

NOT A WIN

 

However, the court, with this ruling, pretty much said, "Small up yuself, INDECOM. You have no right to arrest, charge or prosecute anybody. No more than the regular Joe Blow outta road. YOU, INDECOM, can't take any action against a soul. But your average citizen team members can - only if they act in the capacity of average citizens.

When the court tells you you need a technicality to do what you thought was your job, that, most definitely, is not a win in my mind. Were I a staff member, upon learning that I mistakenly assumed I had the shelter of the INDECOM Act, I would proceed with extreme caution. Perhaps I wouldn't proceed at all.

To know I'm facing these cases as a private individual and not with the backing of a legally entrenched body, or with powers analogous to a constable's, I would draw brakes. I would fear opening up myself to a lawsuit from any officer cleared by the courts. I would feel very exposed.

The Court reduced INDECOM to Paul Blart, Mall Cop. Ya know, that goofy, rotund security guard who moves from one train wreck to another in the Sony Pictures comedy.

It's the difference between assistant manager and assistant to the manager. Big difference. One functions in a leadership capacity and the other is a clerical role. The whole INDECOM case outcome diminishes the stature of INDECOM from management to admin. INDECOM, according to my non-legal interpretation of the law, is nothing more than a glorified security secretary. And that's very unfortunate.

If you ask me, the court ruling is a loss for both INDECOM and for Jamaica. I want INDECOM to have the powers I perceived it did. I want it to have the full backing of the law to keep the police honest.

INDECOM should have the power to cripple the use of excess force and the chops to ensure that those who unjustly abuse their office suffer the appropriate consequences. There's a reason the INDECOM Act was established in the first place. I want to know that when taxpayers' money finances an entire crime-fighting agency, the results are greater than I can achieve using my rights under the Access to Information Act and a citizens' arrest.

 

LOBBY FOR CLARITY

 

I'd suggest the commission use its remaining media rounds to lobby for clarity and fortification. To insist that the law be alerted to give the agency the teeth it needs to get justice for victims of police brutality.

INDECOM should be able to arrest, charge and prosecute the same security forces the law gives them the power to investigate. If that isn't made clear, the law is a farce. It merely established a very expensive fact-finding team.

If the agency isn't going to be able to independently achieve the results we had been sold as a nation, we'd be better served by divesting the entity and merging INDECOM with Jamaicans for Justice under the public-sector reform programme. We'd get the same results without paying rent and salaries.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.