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'Body cameras not the answer' - Lewin says equipment not a crime-fighting tool

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 10:00 AMChristopher Serju
A sample of a body camera which could be worn by local police.
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Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, former chief-of-staff of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and commissioner of police, has come out against the use of body cameras by local police as an effective tool in the fight against crime and improving public trust.

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are now in training to use the audio-recording devices, which are slated for roll-out on a pilot basis in six police divisions by month end.

"We are wrapping up training and in another week or so they will be out there on the road," superintendent of police at the Information and Communications Technology Division, Norris Rhooms, told The Gleaner via telephone yesterday. Personnel from the Kingston Central, Kingston Eastern, St Andrew South, St Andrew Central, Traffic, and Motorised Patrol divisions will be the first batch to use the technology.

However, Lewin, who served as commissioner of police from November 2007 to December 2009, has slammed the idea of body cameras as an effective standalone strategy to improve the relationship between the police and the public.

"We have certain finite resources and I don't think body cameras are the critical thing right now. CCTV (closed circuit television) that helps crime fighting (but) body camera does nothing. All it's going to do is tell us how bad the thing is, but we are not dealing with the complex, human, cultural issues that make the use of body cameras necessary. We are going up the wrong road. We not prioritising," he told a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday.

However, even as he admitted that there was some value in the use of CCTV as an effective crime-monitoring tool, the former chief-of-staff warned against promoting the use of technology over human interaction.

"We are trying to use technology to solve some complex human issues and we're not tackling the demanding work of some very

basic functions of accountability, management, and so - and going with technology isn't going to fix it. We're following and being seduced by every First-World thing we see on TV. It is stupid!" he declared.

Spokesperson for Jamaicans for Justice, Susan Goffe, said that legislation governing the use of the equipment donated by the United States government was not yet in place. So the question of how the recorded material would be stored, accessed and available to the public, as happens in the United States, remains a matter of concern. Inspector Rhooms told The Gleaner that his division was in the process of preparing a document on behalf the Ministry of National Security to inform the legislation that will eventually be presented to Parliament.

However, during the official launch in late August, Rhooms said the systems would be put in place to minimise the chance of the equipment or the system being abused.

This is because the officers will have to sign for the cameras before going on an operation, a process which will include fingerprint. The cameras will be on during the operation, and at the end of the duty, shift officer must sign off when returning them and the footage uploaded to a special database, by authorised personnel. Chances of the equipment being tampered with are remote, Superintendent Rhooms told The Gleaner at the launch.

"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," he explained.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com