POLICE Federation Chairman Raymond Wilson yesterday defended the police's stop-and-search operations, arguing in a release to the media that the exercise has always been intelligence-driven.
"This claim of random and arbitrary searches by the police is absurd and is it why the federation believes that some groups do not understand all aspects of the issue," said Wilson.
"Stops and searches are not random or arbitrary occurrences; they are intelligence-led, targeted operations aimed at reducing the level of crime in Jamaica, which are well grounded in law," Wilson added.
Wilson's voice is the latest among a chorus to have joined the debate since the publication earlier this week of an opinion by Justice David Batts in which the high court judge made it clear that Section 58 of the Road Traffic Act doesn't empower the police to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles.
But yesterday, after the publication of Wilson's comments, rights group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), which has emerged as the police's most strident critic, refuted the claim that there were no random stop and search and called for the intervention of the attorney general and the security minister in the matter.
"[JFJ] calls on the attorney general to issue a directive to the members of the police force, reminding them of their duty to uphold the law and that it is not appropriate for them to disrespect verbally, or by their actions, the rulings of the court of the land. Continued intransigence of the police on this issue will expose the Government of Jamaica to lawsuits that this country can ill afford," said the human rights group.
It added: "JFJ also asks the minister of national security, the Hon Peter Bunting, to inform the commissioner of police and the officers under his charge that it cannot be policy for the police to continue random stops and searches in light of the recent ruling of the courts. He must insist that all such activities cease immediately. The minister must also remind them that policing must be evidence-based and should never do anything to breach the constitutional rights of the citizenry."
Following the publication of Justice Batt's judgement, Commissioner Owen Ellington told the Jamaica Observer that the police would continue to "do what we are doing and we will examine the ruling to see if it has any significant implication for how we operate".
He said if there "are any implications, we'll advise our members accordingly".
On Monday, the Police High Command issued a release in which it highlighted other legislation which empower the police to stop and search vehicles, but pointed out that reasons must be given to the motorists stopped.
But it was the commissioner's comments that the police will continue to doing what they do that has drawn the ire of Observer readers, some of whom believe the police chief has been flippant in his response.
Yesterday, Wilson, to bolster the point that the stops and searches were intelligence-driven, noted that the massive gun and ammunition find in the eastern Jamaica parish of Portland on Tuesday was no random act.
"It was a purposeful, intelligence-led operation to save lives that those 1,279 bullets have ended and the countless others that would have been snuffed out with those 18 firearms," Wilson said.
He said, too, that the majority of the more than 1,000 guns seized across the island each year is as a result of the controversial operations. Wilson's release also that the police have never relied on the Road Traffic Act to search vehicles, "to the best of our knowledge".
But the JFJ was not impressed.
"Mr Wilson is under a misconception," said the rights group in its release. "The police are actually being asked to be responsible and carry out their duties within the confines of the law. The police will always have the power to stop persons and execute searches, providing these stops and searches can be legally justified and are executed based on 'reasonable cause'. Random stops and searches without reasonable cause have always been illegal."
Added the JFJ release: "Mr Wilson's remarks are only one of the critical comments from various branches of the police, including the Police High Command, about the ruling of Mr Justice Batts, QC, and their intention to ignore it. These comments are unseemly and inappropriate and send the wrong signals about respect for law and order and the rule of law."