Fri | Dec 2, 2016

Judges to lose bodyguards ... Only politicians will automatically get personal police

Published:Wednesday | January 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Peter Bunting

Some of the country's judges yesterday responded with fury after it was announced that they would no longer be automatically assigned bodyguards.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who made the announcement in Parliament yesterday, said only the governor general and members of the political directorate would automatically be accorded close-protection officers (CPOs). He said, too, that assignment to other persons and categories of persons would be done based on an assessment of threat levels.

But one of several judges with whom The Gleaner spoke, who preferred not to be identified, said it was ill-advised to remove the automatic assignment of CPOs from judges and resident magistrates.

"This argument that the assignment of CPOs will be done based on the threat level does not make sense. Judges have to deal with criminals every day," the judge said.

"It is unwise to wait until something happens or when your assessment says something may happen. We deal with criminals every day. We do not know when they will try and attack a judge," another stated.

At present, CPOs travel with judges from their homes to court and back home. Judges, however, have to stand the cost of their security at home. The Gleaner understands that discussions are taking place between the Police High Command and the chief justice with a view to strengthening the protection afforded to judges.

In Parliament, Bunting said the automatic assignment of CPOs would be done for the governor general, the prime minister, Cabinet ministers, the leader of the opposition, and former prime ministers, and that otherwise, the assignment of CPOs would "be based on recommendations informed by the threat assessment".

Bunting said a review is currently being done of the deployment of personnel at the VIP Protection Division, which currently has 544 personnel, approximately half of whom work as CPOs, providing bodyguard services to 172 officials, including Cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, judges and magistrates, and holders of some public offices.

Bunting said the bodyguard system has resulted in the inefficient use of personnel, arguing that there have been instances where CPOs are being assigned without threat assessments having been conducted. He also said CPOs have been assigned even when no security threat exists and that CPOs have been engaged in a variety of roles that have nothing to do with security such as acting as drivers or assisting with a variety of domestic chores.

"This significant deployment must be balanced against the reality that there are several police stations unable to adequately cover their police districts because fewer than 10 officers staff them," Bunting said.

He said that in determining whether groups such as judges should benefit from close-protection services, the police would undertake assessments of threat levels.

"Where it is revealed that threat levels are not significant, officers will be redeployed to augment the personnel at geographical divisions," the minister said.

But yesterday, another judge said that judges and their families are sometimes left to the mercy of criminals because of the absence of proper security.

"If the provision of CPOs is no longer automatic, then we may need divine intervention," one judge said, arguing that the current system of security is inadequate and that removing the automatic assignment of CPOs could work to the detriment of judges as they may be vulnerable to attacks.

In addition to a review of the VIP Protection Division, Bunting announced the redeployment of 65 officers from Mobile Reserve and Motorised Patrol to St James, a parish with a high incidence of crime. Bunting said they would be engaged in preventative policing.

Additionally, Bunting said that the Kingston and St Andrew Major Investigation Task Force (MIT) and the St Catherine MIT would be merged and significantly downsized to redeploy the majority of detectives to geographic divisions in the Corporate Area and St Catherine.

Bunting has also given a February 1 date to return murder investigators to geographic divisions to increase divisional capacity to investigate and clear up murders.