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Independent watchdog against police abuse the new norm

Published:Tuesday | November 12, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Durie Dee, Contributor

"Between 1990 and 2000, according to official statistics, an average of 140 people were shot and killed per year by Jamaica's police, a high figure in a country of only 2.6 million people. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of deaths rose to 150 per year, and then, after decreasing slightly in 2003 and 2004, rose to 168 in 2005.

"With an additional 110 persons shot non-fatally by police in 2005, the total number of police shooting victims reached the highest level since 1991. All in all, between October 1999 and February 2006, at least 700, and possibly more than 800, persons died in the line of police fire. According to statistics of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, police shot and killed 272 people in 2007, 224 people in 2008, and 253 people in 2009.

"In 2010, police forces reportedly killed 385 persons; over one-fifth of those who died violently that year died at the hands of those with state-sanctioned authority and power."

- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: 'Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica', August 2012

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) came into being on August 16, 2010, taking over the role of the Police Public Complaints Authority.

As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights outlined the situation in Jamaica has been tragic. Year after year, the number of reported deaths at the hands of the police increased. For victims' families, there appeared to be little appearance of justice since, essentially, the police were left to investigate themselves. Before INDECOM, we were entrusting justice to those who allegedly committed the offence. Where was the assurance in this? Where was the objectivity? The oversight? The transparency?

This is what makes member of parliament for East Rural St Andrew, Mr Damion Crawford's, tweet so unpalatable and unfortunate. It appears to lack sensitivity to people who are still grieving; people who are STILL waiting on justice.

The existence of an independent police oversight body isn't unique to Jamaica. Ours isn't the only jurisdiction that saw the need for one.

Canada has at least 15 civilian oversight bodies for police conduct, with Ontario alone having three.

Two of them are the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). The SIU is a "civilian law-enforcement agency, independent of the police, that conducts criminal investigations into circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault." In the course of its investigations, the unit gathers and assesses evidence, and the director of the SIU decides whether or not the evidence leads to the reasonable belief that a criminal offence has been committed.

"If the director forms such a belief, she or he shall lay a criminal charge against the officer(s), and that charge will then be prosecuted by the Crown attorney. If the director does not form such a belief, she or he cannot lay a criminal charge against the officer(s)."

The OIPRD is described as "an arms-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, staffed entirely by civilians". Additionally, they outline that their goal is "to provide an objective, impartial office to receive, manage and oversee the investigation of public complaints against Ontario's police. The OIPRD also investigates some public complaints."

It is estimated that in the US, there are more than 100 municipalities with some form of external oversight for police conduct.

For example, in New York City, there exists the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints regarding four types of alleged police misconduct - force (including deadly force), abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is a body independent of the police and government, and sets the standard by which police complaints are handled.

And closer to home, Trinidad and Tobago has the Police Complaints Authority, described as "an independent corporate body mandated, among other things, to investigate complaints within its remit without the involvement of the police".

So what's Jamaica's problem? If the standard, internationally, is to establish independent oversight for police conduct. Why are we attempting to avoid this?

It makes complete sense to have an INDEPENDENT oversight body to ensure that human rights are protected while high standards of police conduct are maintained during operations.

Between July and October 2013, 80 civilians were killed by agents of the State.

Think, Jamaica.

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