BACK IN April, acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob was strident.
“They have declared war on the police service,” Mr Jacob said in the wake of the death of PC Clarence Gilkes, who was part of a team of officers dispatched to Upper Rich Plain Road, Diego Martin. “When you touch one police officer you have touched all.”
Calling the incident “dastardly,” the acting top cop later dismissed the willingness of a “suspect” to turn himself in. Instead he presided over a relentless manhunt for the killer or killers in Diego Martin and Chaguaramas. Homes were searched. Even a mosque was allegedly desecrated.
By last Friday, however, Mr Jacob was quietly signing off on suspension letters issued to some of the dead officer's own colleagues.
An autopsy suggested PC Gilkes was shot from behind. A ballistics analysis suggested the bullet came from a police gun. An internal investigation, we have been told, will now proceed.
The acting Commissioner of Police should apologise. He should apologise to the residents of Upper Rich Plain Road and environs, whom he effectively vilified. He should apologise to the “suspect” whose life he unquestionably endangered with his rhetoric. And he should apologise to the country for precipitously concluding that his force was under concerted attack.
The narrative that Mr Jacob accepted as fact and then disseminated widely – of outside criminal elements laying siege to his officers – was one in relation to which he should have waited for conclusive evidence to support. At the very least, he should have conveyed the appearance of having an open mind.
Not only should the officers involved face investigation, but the Police Service Commission (PSC) should censure the top cop for his public statements about this affair. At the very least, that body should take careful note of all these developments in future assessments of him.
At the same time, the acting commissioner’s dangerous gaffe is perhaps the surest sign yet of a police force under pressure, given the resurgence of crime that has accompanied the easing of covid19 restrictions. If questions loom over the ability of the top cop to control his own officers, they also loom in relation to the ability of the police to tackle the “new normal.”
The PSC is working to fill the substantive post of commissioner. Until that post is competently filled, it is likely the country will be subject to more unforced errors of the kind that occurred in this affair.
If Mr Jacob does not apologise or show contrition to the nation, or if he faces no consequences for his conduct, onlookers will be tempted to conclude there may well be very little to distinguish his tenure, however long it lasts, from his predecessor’s.