This week’s featured overall development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the decision by the Police High Command to interdict firebrand Chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Corporal Rohan James, over ‘stinging’ comments and warnings he made relative to the non-payment of overtime amounts to rank-and-file cops.
In the latest development in the brewing battle between James and the high command, which has left some rank-and-file law enforcers upset, the federation chairman filed a lawsuit on Friday in the Supreme Court seeking to have an order for his interdiction quashed.
At the funeral service for slain Police Constable Damien Blair on July 15, a clearly incensed James said the federation will not be “muzzled, intimidated nor bamboozled” over the latest developments involving itself, the Police High Command and what he termed the council of deputies over the contentious issue of overtime payments for rank-and-file police personnel.
He also slammed the high command for failing to make the said overtime payments to rank-and-file police personnel, despite the Government approving such a system to calculate and make the payments.
“I also want to say to (the Police) High Command and our Commissioner (of Police, Major General Antony Anderson), ‘God help you if the membership is not paid their overtime this month,'” declared James sternly in what appeared to be a direct threat of undeclared action or actions to come.
By Wednesday of this week, James was notified that following a probe into the remarks, the commissioner had asked that disciplinary action be taken against him at a court of enquiry, as he (James) is being accused of conduct contrary to the “discipline, good order and guidance of the Force”.
He was subsequently interdicted from duty with immediate effect. He is to receive three-quarters of his salary, and all of his police-issued gears and identification should be returned.
If James is found guilty, the sanctions could range from a lengthy suspension, demotion and possibly dismissal from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
On Thursday, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) and human rights groups such as Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) condemned the interdiction.
In a release on Thursday, the PNP said the JCF’s move against James was “extreme”, and said his constitutional right to free speech were being contravened.
“Corporal Rohan James, as the head of the police federation, has not only the right but also the duty to advocate for the welfare and interests of his fellow police officers,” said the PNP.
“Expressing concerns about the upholding of a court order should not be grounds for punitive action, but rather seen as a responsible act in the interests of justice.
“As the elected representative of the police federation’s members, it is within Chairman James’ purview to voice his concerns and demand the proper enforcement of the court order for the benefit of police officers,” said the Opposition party.
For JFJ, they condemned the interdiction, calling it “an attack against every rank-and-file member of the force who wants their well-deserved and earned overtime pay.”
In a media release, JFJ said James is being interdicted for actions taken as federation chair, and not for official police work.
“This action is unprecedented as it is important that any federation chair is able to carry out such duties without fear of retaliation or repression, or without fear of censorship,” JFJ argued.
“It is unacceptable that such actions are being taken against those who work tirelessly to protect our communities and uphold the law,” it continued.
JFJ called for the commissioner of police and the relevant authorities to immediately cease these actions and respect the rights of police officers to freedom of expression and association.
In response to the overall outrage at James’ interdiction, the Police High Command said it felt obliged to respond, and insisted that it is committed to preserving the right to free speech of all members of the JCF.
But the high command said such freedom must be exercised in line with the established rules and regulations to ensure the JCF’s professionalism, integrity and honour are maintained.
The high command, in its statement, said following an internal investigation by the JCF’s Inspectorate Professional Standards Oversight Bureau (IPSOB) of James’ statements at the funeral, preliminary findings from the inquiry suggested that his statements were found to contravene JCF rules, regulations and Force Orders.
Major General Antony Anderson
The high command also said the statements were “viewed as disrespectful, unprofessional, unfitting of his office and rank, thereby potentially bringing the JCF into disrepute.”
Following what was said to be the guidelines of its established protocols, the high command said James was served with multiple charges and is slated to appear before a court of enquiry.
“Every member of our force is held to the highest standards, and any transgression from these standards is treated with the appropriate seriousness,” declared the high command.
It said in the course of the investigation and any proceedings that follow, there will be no further public commentary from the JCF in the course of the investigation and any proceedings that follow, as they do not wish to argue the case in the public sphere.
While the high command has made its position clear, some police officers have stated their position through posting an image of James, which states that they stand with the police federation head.
Additionally, some officers have penned a letter to the commissioner, strongly disagreeing with his actions against James.
The police federation chairman has since acquired the services of attorneys, and on Friday he filed a lawsuit in a bid to have the JCF quash the interdiction.
The claim was filed by attorney Hugh Wildman on behalf of James, and attempts are being made to get an injunction to stay the decision by the police commissioner to interdict James.
The injunction, if granted, will be heard ahead of a pending hearing and determination of James’ application for leave to apply for judicial review against the proffering of disciplinary proceedings against him by the constabulary in the circumstances.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Andrew Lewis, who is in charge of Administration in the JCF, is named as the respondent in the claim.
In the application filed in court on Friday, Wildman argued that James maintains that what he said at Blair’s funeral did not go beyond the bounds of propriety, and falls squarely within the ambit of Section 13 (3) (b) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom, which states or guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
On Friday, the umbrella group of unions, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), came to James’ defence, arguing that the decision to interdict him is an “egregious” injustice and an affront to the principles of freedom of speech and union representation.
The JCTU claimed that the move to interdict James infringes upon his rights to express legitimate concerns for his fellow members of the JCF.
But those legitimate concerns appear to not be all truthful, according to a statement issued by the JCF late on Friday.
It denied claims that rank-and-file members of the force are owed overtime payments from April of this year.
The JCF’s Corporate and Special Services Branch, which issued the statement on Friday, suggested that 90.7 per cent of overtime claims for April, May and June have been paid.
The JCF said during the process of paying overtime to its members, several anomalies were discovered that needed correcting.
According to the constabulary, the anomalies reportedly stemmed from misunderstandings relating to the procedure and required format, as well as problems regarding the timing of claim submissions to the force’s Corporate and Special Services Branch.
To mitigate the anomalies, the constabulary said it facilitated meetings with district commanders in order to reach a proper understanding of the system.
The JCF said unprocessed overtime claims caused by the anomalies are to be paid in August.
Amid the ongoing developments in the case, social media users have been weighing in, and as usual, with any issue in the public sphere, the matter at hand has taken on a political tone.
Other persons, however, have said the actions that were taken against James were harsh, while others were of the view that he went too far in his comments against the police hierarchy this time around.
“This action (by the Police High Command) seems like a consequence of speaking the truth. Stand firm chairman (of the police federation),” said a man on Facebook.
“Keep fighting for the hardworking police officers of Jamaica, chairman, and stand firm,” shared a woman.
A male Facebook user stated: “There’s a time and place for everything, and this (a cop’s funeral) certainly was not the place to air one’s grouses.”
One woman agreed with that stance.
“It is really a disgrace and poor judgment to use funerals to ash out disputes. To see adults cheering him on makes you wonder.
“No grieving family should have to endure this insult. Lacks modicum respect, even if what he was saying is right, this is wrong.
“Leaders should undergo sensitivity training,” she added.
Meanwhile, another woman said she agreed with the Police High Command’s action.
“This man (James) has always tried to embarrass the hierarchy of the police force at funeral services, and (this) time the force was right to take action. Enough is enough!” she asserted.