Police killings drop to 16-year low

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 29, 2016

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POLICE killings in Jamaica, for the first time in 16 years, plunged to less than 100 last year when the country recorded 98 police fatalities.


The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) told a press conference at its office in New Kingston Wednesday that there were 109 security force fatalities, and of that total, 98 persons were killed by the police and three by the Jamaica Defence Force.


There were also seven deaths in custody (jail) and one that was recorded as "fatality-other".


The number of fatalities in 2015 is 15 per cent less than the 129 police killings recorded in 2014 and 42 per cent less than the 258 recorded in 2013.


Kingston and St Andrew recorded the highest number of fatalities, numbering 49, while St Catherine had the second highest at 27. Hanover, Manchester, St Elizabeth, and St Mary had the lowest number with only one fatal police shooting.


"What we have seen is a decline in fatal shooting across the board, including a decline in fatal shooting from planned operations," INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams said.


Assistant Commissioner Hamish Campbell said the decline in police killings is a significant factor, as the numbers of police fatalities were over 200 in 2013 and decreased significantly from 200 to 150 in 2014


"There is a consistent downward pattern of the number of fatalities by the JCF and that must be acknowledged," he said.


However, Campbell said the number of people who lost their lives at the hands of the security forces was still significant.


Meanwhile, the organisation yesterday highlighted a number of concerns relating to the security forces, chief among them being the number of people killed during planned operations, an increase in police off-duty shootings and the high number of discharge of firearm incidents.


Senior public relations officer at INDECOM, Kahmile Reid, said: "Despite an annual reduction in fatalities, planned operations continue to account annually for some 35-40 per cent of all fatalities."


She said there were 115 fatal shootings in 2014, and 36 planned operations from which 38 fatal shootings occurred and that last year saw 37 planned operations from which 38 fatal shootings occurred.


Further to that Williams said that INDECOM was not aware of all the planned operations only the ones that resulted in fatal shootings.


However, he said, "A planned operation gives the JCF a way in which to conduct the operation so that death is minimised, but some of the operations, were not planned in a way that the risk of death or injury was minimised."


Williams said he was concerned that many of the operations are not being conducted according to protocol, which requires a written or recorded plan of the operation so that the operation can be checked against the plan to see if there was an attempt to reduce risk to life.


"The vast majority continue to have no recorded plans, which is something that we continue to be in communication with the Police High Command about, to ensure that officers in JCF do prepare these written plans," he said.


Reid, at the same time, said the commission has noted a rise in the number of shooting incidents involving off-duty police officers. Thirty-six incidents were recorded last year of which 16 ended in fatalities while the remaining 20 ended in shooting incidents.


"It should be noted that six of the 16 off-duty police fatal shootings were committed by police officers in their private capacity and that four of those officers have since been charged with murder while two other committed suicide," Reid said.


Another area of concern for INDECOM was the high number of discharge of firearm incidents, which numbered 145 last years.


Williams said the organisation will continue to look at the matter and has asked the JCF to continue its internal education as the rules prohibit the firing of warning shots, the firing of gun salutes and firing at vehicles.


While Campbell said that INDECOM has analysed half of those cases to identify the number of police stations involved and to recover the weapons, out of those shootings only four or five weapons were recovered while some 500 shots were fired from those who discharged weapons.


"The culture of firing at people who are unarmed, firing at vehicles which are moving away from them and firing and injuring people is the shift that needs to be seen and we can bring about that change through training, re-education and further engagement…," Campbell said.


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