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INDECOM to also investigate incidents involving off-duty police

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkeya@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 01, 2014    

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THE Joint Select Committee of Parliament reviewing the INDECOM Act has agreed to an amendment which will make the entity responsible for investigating incidents involving even off-duty police personnel.

As it stands, the Act requires the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to investigate "incidents". However, during its appearance before the Committee last year INDECOM said it was not clear whether the definition of 'incidents' applied to members of the security forces and specified officials who are involved in incidents while off duty. They then proposed that the words "on or off duty" be added to the definition of incident.

Wednesday the Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the INDECOM Act in combing through a 42-page matrix summarising the issues for decisions prepared by Parliament agreed to the proposal.

"This is a significant point here, that would make INDECOM responsible for investigating incidents involving the security forces including in circumstances where persons involved were off duty," Committee Chair and Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting explaining what determines when an officer is off duty said the distinction applies in a number of instances including collective bargaining agreements for various benefits.

"It varies whether a police man is on or off duty, for example, if he is killed while on duty there is a more generous benefit that will apply to his family than if he is on vacation at the beach and a jet ski runs over him, for example. There is on duty, off duty and in service," Bunting outlined.

Golding further explained that INDECOM in asking for the distinction was not proposing that they be given those powers in relation to correctional officers or soldiers who are off duty but only to the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The National Security Minister said the body was correct and in line with the stipulations of the Constabulary Force Act.

"The Act speaks to something about day or night and if a policeman is sitting in a public passenger vehicle and observes somebody breaking the law he is obliged to respond even though he may be off duty but he responds as a constable," Bunting said.

"If a soldier or a correctional officer on the other hand is not at work and they are off duty, for example, a soldier would not have a...firearm from the army, for a correctional officer it's similar. So they would not have the powers of a constable while acting alone, while a policeman would have the powers even if he was in a vehicle going home at the end of his shift," he added.

"I would urge that the formulation on or off duty be accepted in relation to the constabulary," Government Senator Lambert Brown said to which Golding replied, "I would support the amendment with the caveat that it be applicable to the constabulary."

Bunting however wanted to know whether the description of 'on or off duty' would also be affected by whether the individual was exercising the powers of the constable when they were acting as opposed to if he/she was on vacation at a hotel and gets in a brawl with another guest.

"Would that be covered or would we want INDECOM to investigate?" he queried.

"There is gonna be, I suppose, a grey area in some instances that a person is acting purely as a civilian who happens to be a member of the force or is acting as a member of the force who is not on duty. I don't think we could easily attempt to address that through a definition," Golding said.

Said Bunting, "We may need to leave it to the discretion of INDECOM. If it is clear that a man is on vacation and gets into a fight with somebody else...I would not expect that INDECOM would get into that situation but if the man is not rostered for work and while on the streets sees a suspicious act and then intervenes and may have to use his service pistol in that case he is clearly acting as a constable".

"Yes, I would be happy to leave it to INDECOM's discretion. We have agreed on that," Golding replied.

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