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A Bill to establish a civilian oversight authority to monitor the operations of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and its auxiliaries has been approved by the House of Representatives.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips who piloted the legislation during yesterday’s (Oct. 25) sitting said the provision would serve to ensure accountability, increase the effectiveness of the police and contribute to raising the level of public confidence in their operations.
The Bill which was the subject of considerable consultations with the Opposition and other critical elements of civil society before its presentation to the House seeks to establish a civilian oversight authority to monitor the operations of the JCF and its auxiliaries, including the Island Special Constabulary Force and the rural police.
The National Security Minister said the Authority once established, would provide a mechanism external to the force to “assist in ensuring accountability, adherence to policy guidelines and observance of proper policing standards by the JCF”.
He noted that while the Constabulary Force Act provided for an Inspectorate to monitor the performance of the Force to determine whether it was operating efficiently and effectively, the Inspectorate had not had the desired effect, thereby necessitating the establishment of the “independent civilian body to monitor the operations of the JCF and its auxiliaries”.
Minister Phillips said the legislation also provided for the functions of the Authority, the appointment of members of the Authority by the Governor General after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and for an annual report to be made by the Authority to the Minister.
It also serves to empower the Authority where the need arises to refer matters to: the Police Service Commission, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Commissioner of Police, or the Minister for the appropriate action.
The National Security Minister in noting that oversight mechanisms were being established internationally, said it had been determined that the creation of such an oversight body would meet the best needs of Jamaica at this time for a system to ensure police accountability.
He assured that the Authority would not interfere with the role of the Police Service Commissions which has the power to appoint, remove and generally exercise disciplinary control over police officers. Furthermore he said it would not affect the operations of the Police Public Complaints Authority for treating with complaints made against members of the Force by the public.
Dr. Phillips said the Authority was intended to have a monitoring role with respect to the management and operations of the force and would be empowered to monitor the use of the financial and other resources made available to the JCF.
It will also have the power to enter premises occupied by the Force, require information and the production of documents and inspect and examine such documents.
Meanwhile Opposition Spokesperson on National Security, Derrick Smith said the Opposition was not opposed to the Bill, but called on Dr. Phillips to inform the House as to the reasons the Inspectorate which had been established had not had the desired effect as well as the estimated cost to establish the new authority.
He further noted that to fulfill their responsibilities under the provision the JCF would have to be equipped with the necessary tools to do their job, adding that if this was not done the Authority in assessing their performance could be reporting unfairly on the Constabulary Force and their auxiliaries in terms of how successfully they would be able to implement government policies. He however noted that the Authority could make a difference and achieve improvement in the professional behaviour of members of the JCF.
Dr. Phillips in replying said the resource needs of the Force were not unnoticed and strong efforts had been made to provide more. He said it was hoped that efforts to acquire additional resources would continue and that the oversight authority could ensure that the resources were being used with sufficient care and for the purposes for which they were provided, to a greater degree.
He however noted that there was not a budgetary provision for the authority presently. This he said would be done when the Board of the authority was appointed and the permanent staff complement decided. The Bill was passed without amendment.