MINISTER of National Security Dr Horace Chang says that his ministry has been having "fairly extensive dialogue" on crime with the private sector over the past three months.
"We respect the support we get from the private sector and we have been having dialogue with them," he told journalists attending yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.
But, he admitted there has been no formal meeting in the last few weeks with the Opposition, although they had been having dialogue over the past year.
Dr Chang also confirmed that there is an important point of consensus — which is a critical element in the ongoing discussions — but insisted that there is also a need for broad consensus on a lot of the measures they have been looking at in terms of reforming the police force, recruiting and training the members, and expanding and properly equipping the force.
He also used the occasion to clarify statements he made a week ago, for which he was accused of inciting murder by police in responding to attacks from armed gangsters.
He said that the comment was part of a presentation in which he outlined the modernisation of the police force, including the steps to ensure that it remains robust, although a relevant set of legislation to support the activity has been moving much slower than was hoped for.
"But we are outlining the additional training that we are doing to ensure that we can get the correct number of police officers and train them in terms of interaction with the wider public — including not only the physical interaction, but the human rights issues and other issues related to proper citizens/police interaction," the minister explained.
"I went on to indicate that the Government accepts responsibility for providing the justice system with adequate infrastructure and provide the police with similar adequate infrastructure, and I pointed out that in the training and development of the force in the past three years, in particular, I could say without any question of a doubt that extrajudicial killing is no part of the force that we have today.
"We have emerging a modern, well-trained and organised police force, which is a force for good. But, the numbers are still low and we have to look at ways and means of multiplying their impact while we expand the numbers to impact on the current epidemic of criminal violence — which is the real issue," he noted.
Dr Chang said that the recent increase in drive-by shootings, in particular, is what has caused great fear in some communities as that is what puts everyone at risk, and not just the criminals who have been the dominant force in interactions between the gangs and the homicides, but where gangs kill gang members in inter-gang quarrels.
"I made a comment, of course. But having just been to a graduation at the Twickenham Park police college — where I saw a batch of bright, young, capable and enthusiastic Jamaicans committed to law and order — and I said, 'If the policemen come under attack by criminals, they should return fire. The term I used was 'fire back' — a standard use of force policy anywhere that you go. If you come under deadly attack you are entitled to respond as, to quote the INDECOM director, 'The first right to life is the right to life of the policeman who is acting to protect not only himself, but the wider society,' " he stated.
He said while there is consensus, which remains a critical element, and there is broad consensus on a lot of the measures the Government is looking at in terms of reforming the police force, where legislation can be used as a force multiplier and when legislation is brought to manage hardened criminals, the issue of constitutional limits creates limitations.
"The lawyers are discussing it because it is not only a matter of agreement. We had an agreement before the elections which indicated clearly that we could go for states of emergency (SOEs) when the numbers reached 32 killings per 100,000 residents. However, that has broken down and the legal posse has moved on, and we are not debating that issue any more.
"We have to find room for an agreement where we are in a position to intercept and remove hardened criminals who are organising killings within communities.
"I said elsewhere in this morning that the gangs within Jamaica are not identifiable political groups or any kind of group that you can challenge easily. They are embedded within the community. Their families are there, friends who they went to school with. They are criminal actors, not political actors — and what we want is criminal legislation to assist the police in removing them from the community while we build the case that we can take to court," he concluded.
In the meantime, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson has sought to defend the use of deadly force by the men and women under his command.
During a visit to Salt Spring, St Catherine, on Wednesday — where three people were fatally shot and several others shot and wounded by gunmen at a football match on Sunday — Anderson argued that while the criminals are free to kill anybody in their attacks, the police are constrained and restrained in how they respond.
"Every single time that the police and gunmen engage, the police must win," declared Anderson.
"And we shoot central mass, that is where we shoot, that is where we are trained to shoot — that's it. And we make sure that our people are well trained," added Anderson in a signal that people who engage the police could be shot in areas of the body such as the head and chest that leads to fatal wounds, instead of in their hands and feet.