Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Police Body cameras finally a reality in Jamaica

Published:Friday | August 26, 2016 | 8:00 AMJason Cross

After a long delay, police officers in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) will now have to use body cameras while interacting with members of the public.

Personnel from the Kingston Central, Kingston Eastern, St Andrew South, St Andrew Central, Traffic, and Motorised Patrol divisions will be the first batch of cops to don the technology when they hit the streets.

The Embassy of the United States of America yesterday handed over 120 body cameras to the JCF. This marks another step towards the strengthening of the United States and Jamaica's bilateral relationship and also demonstrates the commitment both countries share towards crime fighting and improving public trust in law enforcers.

The launch was held at the Office of the Commissioner, Old Hope Road, in Kingston.

The equipment, manufactured by US company Safety Innovations, and the training given to officers cost approximately US$400,000.

Initially, 20 cameras will go to each division.

Process was delayed

As early as 2014, discussions were taking place regarding the use of such technology within the constabulary, but the process was delayed because the appropriate systems needed to be installed to ensure efficiency and to minimise loopholes.

Before an operation and before officers get access to the cameras, they will be required to sign documents for them. There is also a fingerprint mechanism at that point that should lessen the chance of compromise. While interacting with the public, officers are expected to turn the camera on. Upon completing duties, officers should return the device, sign off on it, and the footage will be uploaded to a special database by authorised personnel. Officers cannot delete or edit the footage, according to Superintendent of Police at the Information and Communications Technology Division Norris Rhooms. Each division will have systems in place to facilitate the process.

"During that time (when it is being returned), a supervisor would be there to sign for it, check it that it is not damaged. He (the officer) cannot go in and edit (or) delete anything. If he doesn't turn it on and something happens and he can't give a good reason why he didn't turn it on, he would be in problems because this is going to be a part of standard procedure," Rhooms told The Gleaner before declaring that all breeches would be taken very seriously.

Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams said the pilot project is "just the start" as more cameras will become available in the near future once the first 120 prove to be a success.

"We will not be able to equip every police officer on the front line with a camera. Over time, we intend to implement this new technology across the JCF. Consequently, wherever the cameras are issued, we will carefully monitor police-public interactions and police conduct to draw lessons for our country-wide implementation. All persons who have anything to do with the cameras have been trained or will be trained and certified," the commissioner said.

Improves accountability

Joshua Polacheck, counsellor for public affairs at the United States Embassy, told The Gleaner: "We find that by adding a mutual third eye to the interaction between the police and civilian population, it (will) improve both accountability (for police) and prosecutions for criminals."

Security Minister Robert Montague believes the devices will give additional protection to the police and to citizens.

"This effort is a significant investment in improving transparency in the conduct of police operations. It provides an impartial 'third witness', especially in those cases where accusations of bias and wrongdoing on the part of the police may be made. It is our expectation that these cameras will give additional protection to the rights of our police as well as to the rights of our citizens."

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), in a statement issued yesterday, welcomed the initiative but called for solid protocols.

"This is an important step towards normalising a culture of accountability, and if implemented properly, will bring the Jamaica Constabulary Force closer to complying with human rights obligations," JFJ said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com