Retired Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Newton Amos wants cops to automatically qualify for private gun licences, and for it to be mandatory for civilians seeking to become legal gun owners to formally become part of the country's crime-fighting efforts.
“Every single person who owns a [licensed] firearm must be a part of the police intelligence architecture,” he suggested. “Empower these people instead of giving them these weapons and dem sitting not doing anything — see nothing and hear nothing. This must be a prerequisite; if you are not going to be a part of it, you can't get the firearm.”
Amos, now the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's constituency caretaker for St Catherine North Western, retired at age 60 while he was in charge of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Area Five. Throughout his career in the JCF, he has been in charge of policing some of the country's toughest divisions.
He is convinced that having licensed firearm holders formally incorporated into the police intelligence architecture would significantly address the human resource shortage facing the JCF. He thinks it would also auger well for the “mass mobilisation effort”, which he says is needed to win the war against gun-toting criminals scattered throughout the island.
“More than 30,000 of our people are involved in the private security regulation, and [we are] talking about more than 600,000 licensed firearm holders in Jamaica including pending applications... Where else would you get that type of [support]? And don't tell me you don't want to have those weapons outside; they are out there already. Don't tell me those people are not able to do that [work with the police force] because, if they are not able to do that, they should not be entrusted with the firearm in the first place,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer.
By his reckoning, the human resource boost would not only come from security guards and civilians who hold gun licenses. It would also involve police officers who ordinarily would shy away from crime-fighting while off duty because they are not allowed to take home service weapons.
“Because they [the JCF] don't have the resources to have every single policeman going home with a firearm, it should have been mandated that, if you become a police officer, you are eligible to own a [licensed] firearm, so that when you are off duty technically you are able to respond to crime,” Amos said. “When you give them these opportunities and they break the law and commit crimes with the firearm; we will lock them up and give them long sentences. But it can't be said that you are not going to do it because you don't want them to go out there and commit crimes [with the licensed firearms]. No matter what you do, a minority of our members are going to be involved in crime. We have some before the court today.”
Amos noted that before licensed firearm holders are generally empowered they would have to undergo limited training, and there would have to be legislative changes that address issues such as the power of arrest.
“Initiate special district constable powers under a special Act to, in accordance with the law, provide what I would determine as assistance during and in the absence of the security forces. This Act must specifically look at those issues of crime and violence — especially violence,” Amos reasoned. “The necessary powers that are currently in place must be amended to include the legislative agenda, that persons who are applying [for gun licenses] must consent and become a part of this initiative to become a special district constable with particular reference to the area of concern.”
The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) would be involved in the consultations regarding the proposed changes, Amos noted.
The legislative changes, he said, would not only empower licensed firearm holders, but would also seek to hold them accountable.
He also indicated that the FLA should be put in a position to rigorously assess holders of firearms when they seek renewal of their licenses. They would be assessed to determine if they, among other things, are living up to their stated intention to help the police fight crime.
“At the end of each year when you come to re-register your firearm, the questions are going to be asked of you: Don't you live in this area [where a crime was committed?... Where were you at the time [it was committed]? Why weren't you able to intervene?” Amos said.
Cognisant that some people may not support his suggestions, the retired senior crime fighter underscored the importance of “thinking outside the box” to formulate measures that he said should be able to drive fear into criminals.
According to the JCF, preliminary numbers show that Jamaica recorded 1,463 murders last year, or 132 more than reported in 2020.
For the first 15 days the new year, 72 murders have been recorded on the island.
“We are operating in desperate times and desperate matters or incidents demand desperate actions,” said Amos.
He further reasoned: “What you must understand is that the current war that is being waged is against the State of Jamaica; it is no longer about the little man... Guns and ammunition that are reserved for guerrilla warfare are being used against our citizens; it is against the State and the State must act.”
Asked if he thinks the State would be required to compensate licensed firearm holders for the additional work they would do in the process he proposed, Amos said that should be accommodated in instances such as court appearances and ammunition replacement.
“That must be a part of the package, and that's why I say the legislative agenda must communicate and consult with the relevant stakeholders. What I meant by that was to create the environment and opportunity for compensation one way or the other. Probably it may not be a permanent basis in terms of hours like what the police and the army do now,” Amos explained.
He noted that he supports the crime-fighting initiatives implemented so far by the Government, but he is of the view that the entire nation would benefit from his “out of the box” proposals, which he said he has spent years thinking through.