Prosecutor and former police officer Zachery Phillips yesterday admitted that he had no information on the problem of corruption in the Jamaica Constabulary Force. However, he spoke to his experience in the United States where, he said, the difficulty is being overcome by a change in mentality.
“Our society as a whole has to say ‘hey, we appreciate you as a police officer, but you don’t get special treatment because you’re a police officer’,” Phillips told reporters and editors during the
Jamaica Observer Press Club at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.
“With that said, police officers at the same time have to understand what they’re signing up for,” he said, pointing out that cops must live a lifestyle that is held to greater account than civilians.
Phillips, the deputy chief assistant US attorney for the District of Colorado assigned to the Organised Crime Drug Task Force, is in Jamaica to address an Anti-Corruption Roundtable organised by the US Embassy and the University of the West Indies’ Department of Government, scheduled for this Friday.
He has extensive experience in US law enforcement, serving as a police officer in Albany, Georgia and an investigator for a Federal Bureau of Investigation task force on violent crimes before becoming an attorney.
Asked to address the issue of how to effectively deal with police corruption, Phillips suggested that the problem can mushroom from police officers taking a free cup of coffee from the same restaurant every day, then moving to the next step of accepting a free meal, after which they start taking a major donation from the liquor store.
“Where do you draw that line?” he asked.
“I go back to my days as a police officer... the free coffee, the free meal, that was accepted 25/30 years ago,” he said. “Now it’s not accepted, it’s rejected, so it has to be a change in mentality, not just with the police, but with all of society.”
According to Phillips, an all-encompassing transparent system that holds people accountable is also a necessary tool to limit corruption.
“We change that [mentality] not just through our leaders, but also our youth. If we have people like I had a lieutenant who says ‘listen, if you go out and eat somewhere, and that restaurant gives you a free meal, I expect that that waitress gets the cost of that whole meal [in] her tip... in the sense that we’re not accepting it’. Store owners can do what they want, but you as an individual need to be above that,” Phillips said.