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Judges livid - Only politicians to retain automatic right to police bodyguards

Published:Wednesday | January 28, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Edmond Campbell and Barbara Gayle, Staff Reporters

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.

THREAT-LEVEL ASSESSMENT

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.