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VIDEO: We're not at odds with the public defender, says police chief

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson has stressed that he is not at odds with Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry. However, he holds that it is critical that the issues highlighted in her report to Parliament on the state of public emergency (SOE) in St James be placed in proper context.

General Anderson said that after his appointment in March this year, he met with the public defender in April.

“We had a great meeting, I thought, and discussed a range of issues, including all of the issues coming up now because of what had occurred in January to February when the first SOE was launched,” he told reporters and editors at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

The issues, he said, included overcrowding, and improvements to holding facilities.

“She raised all of these issues and we went through a process of how we would address each one of them, so I would prefer not to be positioned as if the public defender and I are at odds. That's not the case. The police require a certain amount of public confidence and we know in our context that's low, so we have to build that public confidence. We have to make sure that what is said is reflective of what we are doing now,” he explained.

Last Friday, a day after a media tour of the Freeport Police Station in Montego Bay and a news conference during which the St James police rebutted claims made by Harrison Henry, she issued a statement, calling the event inappropriate and “less than respectful of the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) to conduct itself in this manner” while the matter is still before Parliament's Internal and External Affairs Committee.

Yesterday, General Anderson argued that with the entire affair already playing out in the public sphere, it was best to go the route of transparency.

“This has been the subject of discussion in the entire media and social media,” he said, explaining that he received a call from the St James police on Thursday asking if they can facilitate a tour of the detention facilities by journalists.

“In my mind I said if I say no, the reporters can't have access, what am I hiding? If they have questions, then it would have to be answered by the people who are there [on the ground]. I don't see that as calling a press conference. I see that as facilitating the press in the interest of transparency… we have to police with public consent, we have to police with public support. We cannot wait months as things take root to allow the press access,” he explained.

He pointed out, however, that the police's response does not negate from the credibility of the public defender's report. “It does not make her report less credible, it just contextualises it. You have a single narrative running out there that is not reflective of our current reality,” he said.

The police commissioner also emphasised, as other public officials have, that the issues detailed in the report to Parliament were not new.

“Everything pointed out in the report, something was already being done on it… that is why the health department has been in, that is why the numbers in custody are low relative to what obtained back in January and February, and the time which people spend in processing has been restricted,” he told the Observer.

At the same time, he stressed that plans and initiatives were already in train to remedy problems, regardless of the report.

“The things in the report are either things that are addressed or are being addressed. It wasn't the report that propagated that; the numbers and figures in the report are our numbers, we recognise the issues and we have to deal with them… it doesn't diminish the validity of the report but it must be contextualised in terms of what is going on now as opposed to what happened in the early stages,” he stated.

Anderson also cautioned against abandoning the SOE altogether, instead of focusing on fixing areas of concern. The Parliamentary Opposition has repeatedly criticised the SOE now in effect in St James, Kingston Western, and St Catherine North, and the Zones of Special Operation now in effect in Denham Town and St James, as unsustainable crime-fighting strategies.