FLA returns fire
Authority says criticisms fuelled by misinformation; invites police federation to discuss issue

THE Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) has returned fire in the latest quarrel over the issuing of gun permits to members of the police force, saying there is misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding the process, and has extended an invitation to the Jamaica Police Federation to discuss the issue.

On Monday, chairman of the board of the firearms regulator, Colonel (Ret'd) Audley Carter — while declining to respond directly to the arguments raised in the Senate last week on the issue of the challenges members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) say they face in seeking to obtain gun licences, as well as comments from former police federation chairman, Detective Inspector Patrae Rowe — said there is a lack of understanding of the process.

Carter said the federation has been invited to have the FLA Board explain the process and also to review the files of cops who the federation contends have been unjustly refused firearms licences. The authority said more than 90 per cent of members of the police force who apply are approved for gun licences.

In the Senate on Friday, Government Senator Matthew Samuda rubbished arguments from Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting that the police were being discriminated against by the FLA.

Bunting had charged that the regulator was practising elitism, and that it was a disgrace that police on the frontline, who live in some of the toughest areas of the island, were being refused licences, with their address given as a reason.

Samuda, however, said this had to do with safe storage for the weapons.

"Officers who live in particularly volatile areas, depending on the assessment, in some cases it was found that they were in more danger by having it on them because they didn't have adequate security for the weapon while they were in the space," he explained in relation to the FLA's response to recent applications from some cops which, he said, he had reviewed.

On Monday Rowe weighed in on the issue, saying that it has persisted since he was chairman of the federation.

"A number of police officers are still being denied gun licences. If there is nobody in this country who can establish the need for a firearm, a police officer can. What is happening at the FLA in respect of denial of applications for them is wrong and it is a retrograde step — and if the country is serious about crime fighting and protecting our police, the ridiculous policy that the FLA has must be resolved," he asserted.

He categorised as ridiculous some of the reasons cited for refusal, including the section of the JCF to which some cops are assigned.

"One of the more ridiculous ones I've seen in recent times is, a police officer was denied a gun licence because he works at the band division. The police officers who play with the band still go on the streets to do regular police duties within the police division. It was so ridiculous that the FLA stated that in the letter sent to the member," he said.

In a letter earlier this year, reportedly responding to the applicant to which Rowe referred, the FLA listed among its reasons for the denial that it was not convinced of the applicant's need to be armed as he is a member of the band and his exposure to risk is not considered to be at an elevated level.

Based on an explanation of some of the factors that are weighed in granting a licence, the FLA examines the personal risk individuals face, but these are not specific to an individual's profession as there are no special provisions in law for the granting of licences to people based on their field of work or profession.

"You can't have police officers working in one of the most dangerous countries for policing and you're denying police officers for firearms for simple reasons," Rowe argued.

He added that that once a member of the JCF can provide a fixed address, even if it is a police station or barracks, this should be acceptable for the application process.

"I agree that a police officer needs to have a fixed address [but] the policy of the FLA for an officer to have a fixed address, with a safe, can be varied in the case of police officers who work at stations — all police stations in Jamaica have facilities to keep and care firearms," he explained.

He said oftentimes when cops relocate from rural areas to Kingston it takes time to find permanent residence. And when they do, it's usually rented property where they are restricted in terms of making alterations for a safe.

"But every police officer is assigned to a station. I believe if a police officer is assigned to a station permanently, he can be given a firearm on the basis that if he requires a place to store that firearm, he can store it at his or her place of work, because it's a safe area to keep firearms," Rowe argued.

"So, a police officer has to wait until he is settled in the force and buys a house for himself in a certain area. I believe the policy is ridiculous and helps to further put police officers at risk — because the Government will never be able to provide firearms for every single police officer to take home," the former federation head insisted.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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