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Illegal for police/soldiers to wear masks, says INDECOM boss

Monday, December 12, 2011    

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COMMISSIONER of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), Terrence Williams said it was illegal for police and soldiers to wear masks while on operations.

"...We have reports of many occasions, police wearing mask and soldiers wearing mask. It's unlawful. Where are the supervisors of these police officers and soldiers when they are out in the field having deliberately tried to prevent themselves from being identified in the future?" asked Williams in a speech to Spanish Town Rotarians who met last week at the Wyndham Hotel in New Kingston.

The INDECOM boss said he was speaking against the background of members of the security forces giving statements in court which could not be relied on. He noted that there were many cases investigated by INDECOM in which witnesses' accounts of police operations contradicted the police versions.

"When a police officer or a soldier interacts with a citizen, they are normally not that familiar (with each other). Normally the parties are strangers. To make matters worse, the police and the army wear uniforms with hat or a helmet which obscures their features. So you are looking at somebody who you don't know wearing a hat or a helmet.

"On top of that you have the insidious practice of police, and to a lesser extent soldiers, wearing masks when they are interacting with the public. In the JCF book of rules, there is no provision for masks amongst the accoutrements and uniforms worn by the police. They wear a cap, they wear a helmet sometimes, they wear a tunic shirt (denim), a ballistic vest sometimes, but nowhere do you see a mask amongst the accoutrements permitted to be worn by them," the INDECOM official said.

Commissioner Williams said the third means of possible identification should be scientific evidence, ballistics being the main one. "You will know, that sadly in Jamaica, it may take you two years if you are lucky to get back a ballistic report for incidents where the police or the army are involved. Two years if you are lucky," he stressed and added: "We have some cases where we have been awaiting results for a longer period. It is a totally untenable situation."

"We recognise there is a strong lobby in the Police Federation, in the District Constable Association and the Police Officers Association who may not want at first blush these changes that we are calling for. But we ask them to recognise that these suggestions and recommendations are not aimed at victimising them and picking them out, or making their work harder. They are aimed at producing a professional respected police force that is a true servant of its citizens and is in a cooperative and a consensual relationship with its citizens," he added.

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