Police seek more powers to operate in ZOSOs

Police seek more powers to operate in ZOSOs

Friday, January 15, 2021

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THE Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is seeking to have Parliament make amendments to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) or the ZOSO Act to create new criminal offences, and give them additional powers to operate in declared zones.

Alethia Whyte, director of the legal division of the JCF, made 16 proposals for amendments to the Act at a sitting of the Joint Select Committee discussing the ZOSO Act on Wednesday. They include a measure to give the security forces power to detain people for up to five days before they are brought before a parish judge.

The proposal seeks to make it an offence to breach a curfew order, and to prevent or attempt to prevent the security forces from carrying out a search of persons and properties within a zone without a warrant. These offences would attract a fine not exceeding one million dollars or a term in prison not exceeding six months.

“We are of the view that this appropriately reflects the seriousness of the offence and will provide a sufficient deterrent,” Whyte told the committee.

The security forces also want the power to seize any tools of trade if it is 'likely' to be used to commit an offence. Section 14 (4) of the ZOSO Act prevents the seizure of any tools of trade unless the security forces have reasonable grounds to believe that the tool was used or is being used in an offence. That section of the Act prevents the police from searching, or attempts to prevent the police from carrying out searches of any place, people or person without a warrant in the zone.

“While the offence of obstructing or resisting a constable in Section 30 of the Constabulary Force Act can be utilised in circumstances where a person prevents or attempts to prevent a member of the joint force to exercise the power of search it cannot be utilised in circumstances where a person prevents or attempts to prevent a person who is a member of the Jamaica Defence Force,” said Whyte.

To establish the fines for both proposed offences, she told the committee that guidance was had from Section 30 of the Constabulary Force Act where the offence of obstruction and resisting a constable carries a fine not exceeding a million dollars, or a prison term not exceeding six months.

Some other amendments the security forces are seeking to be passed include removing the need for the joint command to advise the prime minister to suspend operations in a zone of special operations. The police argue that the prime minister must be able to consider other factors outside of security considerations to suspend operations in a zone. They are also seeking to give powers to an officer, not below the rank of assistant commissioner in the JCF or a lieutenant colonel in the Jamaica Defence Force, to establish a cordon around or within a zone. At present, the power sits with the joint command.

The constabulary is also seeking an increase in the number of days for which Parliament can renew a zone from 60 to 120 days. If accepted, the police want the number of days in which the joint command, through the commissioner of police and the chief of defence staff, is required to report to the National Security Council be increased from every 10 days to 30 days.

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