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Tear-gas recall

Published:Monday | March 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM
A gun used by the police to fire tear-gas canisters.

Acting commish orders review of smoke-canister policies

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Ongoing controversy fuelled by a policeman's use of a tear-gas canister during a riot at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann last year has sparked yet another reaction from the Police High Command.

Acting Police Commissioner Owen Ellington has instructed that all tear-gas canisters and projectiles be brought in to the relevant divisions in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and their dates of manufacture reviewed. In instances where the date on the devices is illegible or the date of manufacture is prior to 2002, they are to be returned to Headquarters Stores and Armoury for disposal.

In a release outlining new directives in relation to use of tear gas, JCF Communications Director Karl Angell said, "It is to be noted that stocks of tear-smoke canisters and projectiles are only to be held by divisional or area support units and the Mobile Reserve."

Head of the Firearm and Tactical Training Unit, Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Robinson, said the recall and review is to facilitate the implementation of the new policy governing the use and supply of tear-gas canisters throughout the police force.

"It is timely and appropriate that the commissioner has called for it (the review) and I will do my utmost to support him to make sure that the policy and process are carried out as quickly as possible," Robinson told
The Gleaner
/Power 106 News Centre.

For hostile crowd

With the JCF still smarting from the controversy filtering from the damning report out of a commission of enquiry, which stated that tear gas was instrumental in sparking the May 22 fire, Ellington has declared that chemical devices such as tear gas and other irritants issued to divisions should only be used for dealing with hostile crowds in public places.

He also said in force orders issued Friday that these devices should only be used by properly trained individuals as part of a contingency in a planned operation.

"They should never be used in a confined environment, especially where there is a potential fire hazard."

Ellington's instruction came less than two days after the high command moved against four members of the JCF over their actions surrounding the fire which claimed the lives of seven wards of the state.

Interdiction notices were served on the four - three constables from the St Ann Police Division and one corporal from Police Area Two - and became effective last Thursday.

The action was precipitated by a recommendation from chairman of the commission of enquiry, retired justice Paul Harrison, who was scathing in his castigation of the police's role in the incident.

Human-rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) appeared anything but overjoyed with the announcements.

Spokesperson for JFJ, Susan Goffe, said while she welcomed the new directives, common sense dictated that this would have been in place to ensure public safety.

Robinson said he did not believe Ellington's latest decision was prompted by a recognition that there was excessive use of force in the Armadale incident.

"I don't think at this time I could comment on whether there was excessive use of it, but what we are doing is reviewing the process and policing strategies and making sure they meet current needs," Robinson said.

Safety guidelines

He, however, conceded that recent developments sparked the latest developments but stressed that local police rarely resort to the use of tear gas.

"All that we are now doing is ensuring that, when necessary, tear gas will be released with the requisite safety guidelines in place," Robinson said.

He added that recent developments have highlighted that there were large numbers of these devices in police stations all across the island, some going back many years.

"What we are doing now is calling them (the tear-gas canisters) all in with the objective of making sure that those we have are dated and are only used by persons who are authorised to do so."