With at least 19 police killings recorded since the start of the year, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has painted a picture of poor accountability within the Jamaican constabulary for the use of deadly force.
Conceding that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has a "very good" use-of-force policy, INDECOM boss Terrence Williams said the trouble was that it is not underpinned by measures which will ensure that "people are held accountable".
"The way the police force practises, it is hard to detect when someone has breached the policy, so it is very hard for that person to be held accountable," Williams said during a Gleaner Editors' Forum held yesterday at the newspaper's central Kingston offices.
"So it is as if you have the 10 Commandments and you don't put in anyone to spot you breaking any of the 10 Commandments," he explained.
Citing one example, Williams revealed that he has seen cases where it has taken "years" for police personnel who witnessed an incident to come forward and give a statement to investigators.
"I have some files from the BSI (the Bureau of Special Investigations, which preceded INDECOM) that are three years old and they have no statement from the police officer involved," he charged.
By comparison, Williams said police personnel in the American cities of Boston and New York are required to give a statement to investigators before completing their shifts.
DIFFICULTY WITH COLLUSION
The INDECOM boss also complained that his investigators were having "great difficulty" with collusion among members of the JCF when they are required to provide statements.
Williams noted that he has already written to the JCF indicating that the practice should be discontinued, but said the JCF has replied saying policemen and women have "a right to research among their colleagues".
The INDECOM head added: "So if you don't run an accountable system, your use-of-force policy is really a fašade."
Local human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice sided with Williams, asserting that there is no system to determine which police fatal shootings are in response to threats on their lives or the lives of others, and which ones occur in instances where there are no threats.
TOO MANY UNKNOWNS
"And here we are talking about cars that are fleeing the police, or people get shot in the back or in a bed," Gomes continued.
"So the problem is we don't know what percentage of the police fatal shootings occur in lawful situations and what percentage occurs outside of that," she added.
Chairman of the Police Federation Sergeant Raymond Wilson, speaking at the same forum, defended his colleagues, explaining that their primary concern was that INDECOM wanted them to give statements without legal representation.
Wilson said he had no doubt about INDECOM's capability to investigate police personnel, but argued that asking them to give statements without the advice of an attorney goes against their human rights.
Police statistics show that there have been more than 2,600 police killings since the year 2000.