Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | Bodycams and Mr Lee-Chin’s growth plan

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 8:00 AM

It has been a long gestation - started during the time of the former national security minister, Peter Bunting, but spoken of long before then - to last week's launch of a pilot in the use of body cameras by Jamaica's police. Hopefully, though, the bodycams will soon reveal their worth, leading their rollout across the constabulary, followed quickly by other modern policing technologies and necessary equipment. This is important beyond the narrowest interpretation of law-and-order considerations.

First, however, we look forward to the robust evaluation of the specific hardware being employed, how they are actually used by police personnel, and the operating procedures that the constabulary has in place.

As we understand it, body cameras are increasingly used by police forces across the world for two primary reasons. One, by filming their engagement with the public, the police, when they behave appropriately, insulate themselves against false accusations of abuse. The converse is true when citizens are abused. Second, and related to the first, the presence of cameras, supported by a rigorously enforced protocol for their use, can act as a restraint to misbehaviour by police personnel and, therefore, is good in a country like Jamaica, with its high levels of complaints against cops, especially for alleged unnecessary shootings.

That is why we are concerned that the bodycams in this pilot, of the operating protocol being employed, requires that an officer turn on the camera at the time of his/her engagement with a person, rather than it being operational for the entire duration of an officer's shift. If battery life is the issue, that, we believe, is an easily surmountable problem, given what is on the market. It would be this newspaper's preference, too, if the cameras being used have live-streaming, GPS mapping, with date-stamp capabilities.

 

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Of course, there is a cost to such technologies. Indeed, for a police force of more than 12,000, only 120 bodycams have so far been acquired, at a cost, including supporting systems, of US$400,000, or J$51.6 million. This bill is being covered by the US government, which brings us back to what ought to be considerations when making such investments.

The context here is economic growth and the task force led by Michael Lee-Chin to provide a fillip in this area. The country's heavy lifting of the past four and a half years in the fiscal arena gives the country the best chance in 40 years of generating sustained growth - even Mr Lee-Chin's projection of five per cent in four years.

But there is a potentially major deterrent: crime, especially Jamaica's homicide rate of more than 45 per 100,000. We refer to that often-quoted World Bank analysis of 15 years ago that with a murder rate of, say, eight per 100,000, Jamaica could easily squeeze another 5.8 per cent of growth out of its annual economic activity.

Indeed, the analyses indicate that Jamaican firms spend up to 18 per cent of their sales on security, an expenditure that might have otherwise gone into investment that expands the business, creates jobs, and grows the economy.

The bottom line is that Mr Lee-Chin, whatever else he suggests to the Government, must insist that fighting crime, inclusive of the expenditure thereon, has to be a priority on the route to economic growth. In the current fiscal year, the Government budgeted $51 billion, or nine per cent of overall expenditure, to national security. That, in the circumstances, is not enough.