KINGSTON, Jamaica — Thousands of miles and a world away from his police chief's office in South Pasadena, Michael Berkow craned over a harried Jamaican police dispatcher Thursday as a command center console crackled nonstop.
"Shots fired. Olympic Gardens."
"Crowd forming. No ballot boxes."
"Barrytown, Montego Bay. No black books."
From Jamaican police headquarters, Berkow listened as chaos reigned at many polling booths nationwide as nearly 1 million voters struggled with electoral disorder, isolated ballot-box thefts, long delays and a hot sun to elect a new lower house of Parliament.
As part of a 55-member team of international election observers that included retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield, Berkow helped provide a poll-watching presence that was more than symbolic.
At the end of voting in elections that were seen as a critical test of what has become one of the deadliest democracies in the Western Hemisphere, something extraordinary had happened:
Just one person was killed during voting hours, according to police logs, in a nation where hundreds have been killed in elections past.
"I know it sounds corny, but in the United States, it's easy to take for granted our system and the freedoms we enjoy," Berkow said, explaining why he joined the observer team that former President Jimmy Carter had assembled to monitor the elections, which swept Prime Minister P. J. Patterson into a third consecutive term.
Partial results late Thursday showed that Patterson's People's National Party won an absolute majority over its main rival, the Jamaica Labor Party. Most independent analysts in Jamaica concluded that despite the widespread administrative problems, Jamaican voters had shown a new sense of maturity.
"For me, this refocuses my mind on just how important and valuable those democratic freedoms truly are," Berkow said.
The observers--bolstered by a new, 1,000-strong Jamaican citizens watchdog group--took to the streets, schools and churches in some of this capital's most dangerous precincts Thursday.
In impoverished Kingston political districts that have become such heavily armed one-party encampments that they are officially called "garrison districts," Holyfield was swarmed by adoring voters. In the past, street gangs have systematically stolen ballot boxes at gunpoint, assassinated rival party enforcers and intimidated entire neighborhoods.
But this didn't happen in most places Thursday.
"Jamaica loves you, man," voter Roy Phipps, his graying hair in dreadlocks, told Holyfield after he hugged him at Haile Salassie High School, a stronghold of the People's National Party.
After Holyfield left the school--where a blackboard sign read, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God"--Phipps explained why the polls were Jamaica's least bloody in two decades.
In previous elections, Phipps said, his job was to "mash up the vote," using guns and intimidation against supporters of rival parties. On Thursday, he left the guns at home, hugged Holyfield and voted quietly for the first time, he said.
"We're the people, and we did the violence. Now we decided we're going to keep it down. Keep all of it down." Asked why, he replied, "We don't want a war, man."
In the Kingston suburb of August Town, where 12 people were shot and wounded in preelection violence earlier this month, Powell began an emotional day touring the nation of his parents' birth.
Soon after sunrise, in the courtyard of a polling site at Christ the King Church, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered simple advice for Jamaica's political gunmen: "Don't do it. It's not good for Jamaica. It's not good for democracy."
Although violence was kept to a minimum--police records show that one woman was stabbed to death at a precinct just outside Kingston--electoral mismanagement was not. Polling booths were short of presiding officers. Voter-identification lists arrived hours late at some precincts.
By the close of the polls at 6 p.m., Chief Berkow had monitored more than 400 complaint calls from throughout the island to the high-tech police command center, one of several new election-security measures instituted by the government. And he praised the Jamaican police for their efficiency, from seizing guns from potential attackers to responding quickly to most calls.
Berkow served as police liaison between the Carter Center delegation and Jamaican police.
"I really am on vacation," said Berkow, who became South Pasadena's chief in July after the department was rocked by internal scandals. "I enjoy these missions."
Jamaica was not Berkow's first. He once worked for the U.S. Justice Department's police missions in Haiti and Somalia. His assignment was to help rebuild the national police force in devastated nations.
By comparison, election day in Jamaica on Thursday was a breeze, he said--and far more rewarding.
Somalia's police force has since collapsed. Haiti's is struggling. But on Thursday, Berkow and several other poll watchers here concluded, Jamaican democracy took a first step toward rebirth.