At some point you have to hear when actions speak louder than words. You have to acknowledge that the promises have turned out to be just that…promises. Declarations, clothed in good intentions perhaps, but with no real substance to them in the end. This certainly looks like the case with the use of body-worn cameras by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). These cameras seem to be a comfort to a fool.
Across at least two administrations and three police commissioners so far, there have been commitments to the use of body-worn cameras by the police. This has been promised as a tool to help with increasing accountability, transparency, professionalism, public trust in the JCF and as a counter to possible false accusations against the police. There have been press conferences, press releases, official launches, pilot projects and media stories about these body-worn cameras. The use of body-worn cameras has been included in legislation and the JCF (finally) produced in November last year policy and procedures regarding the cameras.
Yesterday the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) held a press conference about its 4th Quarterly Report for 2017, which was recently tabled in Parliament. Part Three of the report included a brief update regarding body-worn cameras (p.45).
To date, after all the fanfare, promises and hype, the JCF’s body-worn cameras have not resulted in one piece of footage of any incident that requires further action, not from a planned operation, not from a planned, stationary vehicle check point, not from a random incident, not from any camera deployed anywhere. So where are these body cameras being deployed, if not in circumstances where there is most likelihood of encounters which could result in injury or loss of life?
In some jurisdictions, the discussion about the usefulness of body cameras centres around whether the footage captures all of an encounter; whether the camera is deliberately turned on or off; whether footage should be released to the public and, if so, when; whether the cameras have significant impact on the behaviour of police or the public; whether the cameras actually reduce incidents of police abuse or other such issues. Here, however, we are wondering whether body cameras are actually being deployed and, if so, what is being captured on the body cameras.
“What we are saying is that the Commissioner of Police ought to, since we are putting public attention on it, ought to cause the Force to operate in a way where, when there is a planned operation, that at least one member of that operation who is going to be involved in the activities is wearing a body-worn camera. We think that it gives a false sense of accountability to say, “Oh, yes, we have body-worn cameras,” if you do not deploy them in the areas where they are most needed. And a Force which has questions surrounding its use of force needs to as much as possible put them on all officers who are likely to be involved in use of force incidents.” – Terrence Williams, INDECOM Commissioner, press conference, March 13, 2018
The new Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson, begins work next week, on March 19. From day one he will have a long list of issues needing his attention. Somewhere on that list should be a review of the deployment of this potentially useful tactical tool, which is currently being deployed in a manner that successfully avoids capturing anything of any significance.