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Police firearms training unit to be disbanded

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 04, 2014    

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THE Firearm and Tactical Training Unit (FTTU) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), which is based at Twickenham Park in St Catherine, is to be disbanded.

The Jamaica Observer has been reliably informed that members of the unit were told by senior officers last weekend that the unit would be disbanded and the staff transferred to various other units within the constabulary. The transfers are likely to be included in this week's Force Orders from the JCF.

Meanwhile, a source told the Observer that members of the unit were recently barred from using equipment paid for with funds provided by the United States Government, including the multi-million-dollar firearms training simulator, which has been the feature of the unit's training programme.

This decision to bar the police from using the equipment was made under the Leahy Amendment (Leahy Law) -- the human rights law which prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from giving military assistance to foreign forces accused of violating human rights with impunity.

It was not clear why the unit would be cited for violating human rights as its primary function is to provide training for members of the constabulary. A source said, however, that members of the unit were told that the ban was related to the use of force by the JCF.

"They were told that we were being blacklisted for the use of force and they were saying, for example, that officers were training death squads in the police force," our source said.

Under the Leahy Law if a police unit is implicated in serious abuse of human rights, assistance is denied until the host nation's government takes effective steps to bring the responsible persons within the unit to justice.

Yesterday, Opposition spokesman on national security, Derrick Smith said plans to disband the firearms training unit could be linked to plans to start the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

In a statement, Smith said that the issue has to be seen in the context of the role played by the unit as a back-up to the constabulary and army during the May 2010 operation in West Kingston.

The $51-million FTTU facility, built with funds provided by the British Government and supported wih equipment from the United States since 2008, has been part of the JCF's training branch located at Twickenham Park. The unit has a staff of about 40 persons, including 34 trainers in the use of firearms and tactical responses to armed thugs.

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