Wed | Aug 21, 2019

Garth Rattray | Should the police shoot to wound?

Published:Monday | March 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There have been so many anecdotes about abuse of power, unprofessional behaviour, and extrajudicial killings that I concur with the formation of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

However, the police say that INDECOM causes them to be overly cautious when dealing with deadly criminals because they fear persecution and unfair prosecution. They say that the 'bad press' attracts unwarranted criticisms and encourages hate of the police while emboldening the criminals. Many police tell me that they have nothing against INDECOM, but they have problems with the mannerism of the head of the organisation and with the way that statistics are produced and made public.

On the other hand, INDECOM says that it is only doing its job and that, as long as the police are not breaking any laws, they have nothing to fear. They say that they are acting in the best interest of the public and the police force since their actions will result in better and safer policing.

For my part, I feel that INDECOM statistics regarding police killings need to concomitantly reveal the number of citizens killed by criminal elements during that relevant period. That would provide a more balanced perspective about the level of deadly crimes that require response from the police.

I was perplexed by the Jamaica Observer (March 12, 2018) article 'Police killing more than they are wounding - INDECOM'. Essentially, INDECOM was criticising the police for excessive use of deadly force. "According to INDECOM, all security shooting incidents are life-endangering, and there is an expectation that casualties from security force shooting incidents would result in more individuals being wounded than killed ... .

"Where the number of civilians shot and killed is greater than those shot and injured, it is a relevant factor in measuring and assessing the use of force and determining whether there is an excessive level of deadly force ... . The pattern of security forces' shooting incidents show that there are always more people killed than injured in the reported encounters. The ratio between persons killed and injured has remained relatively constant, at nearly 60:40." The article went on to report that "the ratio between those killed and wounded had widened and a ratio of nearly 2:1 has been reached".

INDECOM should know that no one, police or licensed firearm holder, should pull his or her weapon unless there is demonstrable and significant threat to someone's life or property. And by 'property', it means that the stealing or destruction of said property could threaten a life. A firearm should only be discharged whenever there is a need for unavoidable, deadly force.

The police are trained to react to dangerous or murderous behaviour. Therefore, they, like all firearm holders/users, are trained to aim for the largest part of the target - the torso - because shooting to injure may result in a miss and would probably not stop the aggressor - who might be armed with a gun, knife or other potentially deadly objects. Western movies depicting shooting guns out of people's hands or 'winging' someone represent pure fantasy.

Even when aggressors are shot in vital areas, it sometimes takes several bullets to stop them. Rangemasters and instructors teach people to fire several shots at the target. I vividly recall seeing a young man at the University Hospital of the West Indies (then) Casualty Department (circa 1982) who sustained through-and-through bullet wounds to both sides of his chest and he survived.

INDECOM's insinuation that police should aim to wound and not kill diminishes its vaunted objectivity and authority and makes it seem totally unaware of the basic tenets of mortal engagement (the basis of its conception).

If an officer of the law feels threatened by anyone, even an unarmed individual, he or she will be within his or her rights to use deadly force because the aggressor may overpower him or her and use the acquired deadly weapon to kill, as happened on April 28, 2017, when a suspect wrested the service pistol away from a policeman and killed him with it.

INDECOM should lobby for more non-lethal weapons, especially Tasers. These may reduce the use of deadly force. Batons and pepper spray are not necessarily good enough to subdue a violent suspect.

We need INDECOM to help protect us and improve the police force. They can't achieve their goal when they so often appear adversarial towards the police.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and