Erla’s birthday gift

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. - File photo by Roger Jacob
Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. - File photo by Roger Jacob

THE COLLISION between the retirement age requirement within the police hierarchy and the convoluted constitutional arrangement by which a top cop is appointed has made an already unwieldy framework into an unholy mess.

That is one of the clearest takeaways from the advent of Erla Harewood-Christopher, 62, to the post of Commissioner of Police, a post to which she was returned this week.

Just in time for her birthday today, Ms Harewood-Christopher’s tenure was extended by Cabinet on May 13. But the Government’s move is not necessarily a gift.

At a time when the commissioner needs to inspire confidence, there are too many questions about the legality, propriety and appropriateness of this extension.

The involvement of the Cabinet – nominally led by an acting prime minister in recent days – was necessitated by the fact that Ms Harewood-Christopher aged out of the service mere months after she became commissioner in 2023.

This has created dual tracks through which the top cop is being assessed, with the Cabinet having a role once a year up to three years and the Police Service Commission (PSC) having a role more generally.

A cabinet is a creature of politics. The PSC, in contrast, is, on paper, an independent body with specialist expertise.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds’s disclosure that government ministers, in coming to a decision this week, solicited the views of the PSC, begs the question as to whether it is appropriate for a cabinet to have a role in this matter in the first place.

The prevailing view of the courts, thus far, in litigation brought by activists on this matter, has been one of making a distinction between an appointment (solely for the PSC) and a routine police officer extension (for Cabinet).

Yet, a failure to extend, in this instance, would undo an appointment, rendering it a nullity. Had the Cabinet not extended Ms Harewood-Christopher’s service as a police officer last year, she would have only served for a few months as top cop.

A single extension, rendered as a necessity, is also markedly different from a series of scheduled extensions and evaluations as envisioned by the Police Service Act, which, incidentally, speaks of extending the terms of “officers,” not specifically a commissioner who has a special constitutional role.

Is it proper to have a power to extend hanging like the sword of Damocles over such an officeholder?

There’s an urgent need to clean up this mess through constitutional reform.

But it is also worth considering whether the Government, which is reportedly in dialogue with stakeholders to raise the national retirement age, cannot simply amend the law to allow all police officers to serve longer.

Unless, of course, the Cabinet prefers it so.


"Erla’s birthday gift"

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