Jamaica adopting strategies to reduce shootings by police
Commissioner outlines changes to the existing use-of-force policy.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday April 04, 2012 – Under pressure for the recent spike in fatal shootings, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the country’s five representative police groups will be adopting several new procedures designed to lessen the number of fatal incidents during operations.
Police statistics show that since the start of the year, 56 civilians have been killed in police operations, with more than 28 fatalities in March.
Minister of National Security Peter Bunting, in a statement in parliament on March 27, charged the Police High Command to move to reduce the level of fatal shootings, and informed that the government was to undertake a review of the JCF’s policy on the use-of-force.
“We are all agreed that there has to be a change in policy attitude in respect of how we use force and a complete change in our professional conduct in respect of how we deploy deadly force,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said during a press conference yesterday.
The changes listed by Ellington included some new measures and repeats of others that were announced in 2003 by then Commissioner of Police Francis Forbes.
Included in the new measures is a requirement that divisional shift commanders, upon taking up duty, be reminded by police control that they will be held accountable for the use of force by the persons under their command.
“We are not removing from the individual officers the need to exercise judgement in the use of force if his life or the life of someone else is in danger,” Ellington said. “But we are going to hold the shift commander accountable for ensuring that whenever members are dispatched on any assignment, armed or unarmed, that they are reminded of their obligation to exercise duty of care and that we are holding them accountable for failing to report any observed or apparent excesses.”
Among the measures repeated from the 2003 use-of-force policy directive was the need for increased use of non-lethal equipment such as batons and pepper sprays and a requirement that “police officers must identify themselves and give clear warning that they intend to use their firearms” before discharging them.
Ellington insisted that these measures were part of an attempt to change the “mindset” of police personnel in the line of fire and promote greater use of “less lethal force” among them.
He said warning a criminal suspect to “drop their weapon and walk away from it” was also part of the attempt to defuse situations.
“You shout loud enough so that the person can hear and others can hear because they may be your witness at some stage that you did in fact try to de-escalate force without the use of deadly force,” he explained.
The Commissioner added that the JCF would also insist that any member going on duty on the front line is equipped with less lethal force, as far as is practicable.