Sat | Mar 25, 2023

Letter of the Day | Officers beware, shoot to kill may be murder!

Published:Thursday | September 29, 2022 | 12:06 AM


Frustration and disquiet appear to be lurking within the portfolio of the national security minister, Dr Horace Chang. The disease of crime continues to show its ugly face, and the minister is under increasing pressure to curb its spread and to cauterise the nasty wound. With no clear crime strategy, the minister recently urged members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to “shoot to kill” when confronted by armed men. He reasoned that the country was spending too much money to treat criminals at our hospitals.

I believe that the minister’s statement was rather emotional and said out of sheer frustration. Many Jamaicans share the minister’s vexation, as criminals have recreated the Wild Wild West, and members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force have simply been outmanoeuvred and overwhelmed. Recently, gunmen with high-powered, automatic weapons indiscriminately opened fire at a community football match, shooting nine people and killing three.

While some police officers may feel empowered by the minister’s statement to “shoot to kill”, Section 2.16 of the Book of Rules for the Jamaica Constabulary Force makes it clear that “All members are required to exercise care in the handling and use of firearms, and one should resort to the use of a firearm only when it is extremely necessary. Consideration must be given to the human life at the other end, and any member who has to use a firearm to injure or kill another human being must be prepared to prove that it was his last alternative, at the time of discharging such firearm.”

Section 2.17 further goes on to say that “If for any reason any member has to resort to the use of firearm in apprehending a criminal, or suspect, this should be done only in self-defence.”

International standards also govern the use of force and firearms by the police. These standards include the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Minimum Standards on the Use of Force and Firearms. These provide that deadly force should be used only as a last resort in response to imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when all other measures have been exhausted.

I urge the brave members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to use only such force as is necessary in the circumstances. Even if you see someone in the commission of a crime, you are not empowered to ‘shoot to kill’ unless someone’s life is in danger. The Privy Council case of Beckford v R (1987) provides that “the test for self-defence is that ‘a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances as he honestly believes them to be in the defence of himself or another.’” This is the guiding principle that should resonate with the members of the constabulary force and licensed firearm holders when they are confronted by armed men. In the end, the rule of law must prevail, and it is irresponsible to send the wrong message to police officers, lest they be found guilty of murder.