Right Steps & Poui Trees


Electricity Disconnected at Walker’s Place of Safety Months Before the Fire

On March 22, 2019, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate for the following:

All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018, the death of the two girls as a result of that fire and any subsequent investigation into the fire or the resulting deaths.

After one extension of time, I received a number of documents last week Friday, May 17, 2019:

1) You will be granted access to copies of the following:
✓Letter from the Jamaica Public Service, regarding the account at 17 Lyndhurst Crescent, dated July 10, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Jamaica Fire Brigade Report dated April 5, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Electricity Division of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology dated March 15, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Emanuel Barosa, President and CEO of Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information dated July 4, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Ms. Jennifer Williams, Customer Service Manager at the Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information on the status of electricity on the premises prior to fire dated July 13, June 25 and March 14 2018 ;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Solomon Burchell, Director of Electricity at the Ministry of Science Energy and Technology dated July 18 and July 5, 2018;
✓ Letters from Mr. Downer to Inspector M. Anderson of the Half Way Tree Police Station regarding the police investigation, July 12, July 10 and July 6 2018;
✓Letter from Mr. Downer to Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police dated July 18, 2018;
✓ Letter from Mr. Downer to Mrs. Rosa-le Gage-Grey Chief Executive Officer, Child Protection and Family Services Agency regarding outstanding JPS bill balance and for the agency to clear that amount dated July 16, 2018;
✓Letter from Mrs. Diahann Gordon Harrison to Mr. Raymond Spencer, Commissioner. Jamaica Fire Brigade requesting a copy of the report dated February 1, 2018..

I was also told that all other documents had been denied:

2) You have been denied access to all other documents due to the nature of these documents and as they are exempt in accordance with Sections 17 and 22 of the ATI Act (2003) and Sections 44 and 45 of the CCPA (2004).

This morning I posted a thread on Twitter, sharing some of the questions and concerns raised by information in these additional documents:

Walker's Thread 20-5-19 1
Walker's Thread 20-5-19 2Walker's Thread 20-5-19 3walker's thread 20-5-19 4Walker's Thread 20-5-19 5Walker's thread 20-5-19 6Walker's thread 20-5-19 7Walker's thread 20-5-19 8Walker's thread 20-5-19 9Walker's thread 20-5-19 10Walker's thread 20-5-19 11Walker's thread 20-5-19 12Walker's thread 20-5-19 13Walker's thread 20-5-19 14Walker's thread 20-5-19 15Walker's thread 20-5-19 16Walker's thread 20-5-19 17Walker's thread 20-5-19 18Walker's thread 20-5-19 19Walker's thread 20-5-19 20There is obviously so much more to be learned about this tragic incident. I continue to use Access to Information requests to obtain more documents and I continue to hope that somewhere within the state’s agencies the full account is being compiled.

 

 

 

 

 

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Police Have Sent File on Walker’s Place of Safety Fire to the DPP

When news came of the fire that destroyed the Walker’s Place of Safety on January 16, 2018, resulting in the death of two girls, there was an outpouring of grief and concern from officials and members of the public. Offers of help were extended, commitments were made regarding care for the surviving children and donations were given for immediate needs and towards the rebuilding of the facility.

 

At the time, I could not help thinking of the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility on the night of May 22, 2009, which caused the death of seven girls and injury and trauma to numerous others. The subsequent Commission of Enquiry revealed specific information about the circumstances – horrifying and preventable – that led to the death of those children.

Assuming (hoping?) that lessons had been learned from that tragic event and loss of life, I expected that there would be the kind of thorough and detailed investigation and reporting that would indicate the specific circumstances that led to the death of the two children at Walker’s Place of Safety. I expected that there would be a full public accounting, so that we would know why these children’s lives had been lost, although the lives of so many others had been saved.

I did not hear in the public statements by officials the kind of details that would be needed and perhaps I didn’t expect it. I did, however, expect that in written format somewhere in the government agencies that level of investigation, reporting and accounting would exist. Reference was made in the media to a report by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA, formerly the CDA – Child Development Agency) and the fire report by the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I made Access to Information (ATI) requests for these documents, in the hopes that they would provide more of the type of information I was expecting to see. They didn’t.

(I wrote two blog posts about these reports – one on May 17, 2018 –

Walker’s Place of Safety Fire Brigade Report via Access to Information Request

and the other on September 29, 2018 –

Fire at Walker’s Place of Safety: More Information Needed

In the second post, I pointed out how little information is given about the circumstances leading to the death of the two children and the need for much more.)

The first anniversary of the fire came and went and on January 24, 2019, I made ATI requests to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) and to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) via the Ministry of National Security (MNS). There is a reason for having gone that route with my request to the JCF, but that’s for another time. The requests I made were as follows:

1. All documents giving an account of the specific circumstances surrounding the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018.
2. All documents regarding any investigation or inquiry into the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018, including any instructions for such investigation or inquiry to be carried out.
3. All documents related to any aspect of the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
4. All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
MNS acknowledged receipt of my requests that same day, but then I heard nothing further. I emailed again on February 27, 2019, pointing this out and the following day received this response from MNS:

“This is to inform that your request below was directed to the J.C.F. However, in initial communication with them they had maintained that the matter was being investigated and would in this instance could not be disclosed, this was communicated verbally. I did not want to pass on this information until documented information/confirmation was forwarded about same.

Notwithstanding the J.C.F has formally confirmed that an investigation was conducted on the matter and the file was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for ruling which is being awaited.

Consequently, based on the status of the matter the documents are exempted vide section 16 (b) of the Access to Information Act. Please be guided accordingly, thank you.”

Section 16(b) deals with one of the provisions for exemption of documents relating to law enforcement and reads as follows:ATI Act 16(b) exempt docs

I replied on the same day asking if I could get some document from the JCF indicating that the file had been referred to the DPP – a memo or cover letter for example, which mightn’t be exempt under the ATI Act.

On March 7, 2019, I received the following acknowledgement from MNS…

“I have requested the document/s that would indicate a referral of this matter to the DPP, I will be awaiting same. It will be forwarded when received. Thank you.”

…and on March 25, 2019, I received the following response:

“Please find attached correspondence substantiating that the matter of the Walker’s Place of Safety fire (case file) was referred to the Director of Public Prosecution by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Thank you.”

The documents attached were a handwritten certified copy of an entry in the Registry Correspondence Books and a typed copy of the same. An edited image of the typed copy, which is more legible, is shared here. ATI JCF Walker's POS case file correspondence 3-19 - cropped

A list of the names of the people whose statements were sent and a list of the pieces of evidence sent were included under the heading “File Contents”. I decided, however, not to include those in my post, which is why the image is edited. And I note that the document doesn’t actually indicate who the file was sent to. I also note that the file seems to have been sent on February 7, 2019, three weeks after the first anniversary of the fire and two weeks after I made my ATI request to the JCF.

I do not know what decision the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has made regarding the file…whether or not a decision has been made to prosecute anyone for a crime in regard to the fire or the death of the girls. I wait to hear.

The Armadale Commission of Enquiry and its subsequent report demonstrated the level of enquiry and reporting that should take place if a child dies in a fire in state care, the level of reporting owed to the child, to the family, to the nation. But does it require that a Commission of Enquiry be held to get that detailed accounting? What protocols were set in place after Armadale for the proper investigation of such tragic incidents? And who has the responsibility for such an investigation and reporting?

No-one could be satisfied with the CPFSA report or the Fire Brigade report.

I have been told by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information that they have no information in response to my request about the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety and the death of the two children, that all such information would be at CPFSA. I have made a request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate, which has asked for an extension of time to consider the request and have been told I will have a response by May 19.

Some weeks ago I went with a couple of others to the site of the Walker’s Place of Safety. There was nothing at the site that would clearly indicate to someone who didn’t know that that was where the facility had been located. The remains of the building have been removed and the site cleared. The type of bush that covers open lots has grown up quickly. There are remains of a play area to the front of the cleared lot and if you walk across the lot and look closely at the ground, you can see small pieces of charred wood sparsely scattered in the dirt. To one side of the lot, there is a tree that still shows signs of being badly burnt.

(Video credit: D. A. Bullock)

The events of that night may be indelibly seared in the memories of those who experienced it directly, of the survivors, of the families of those who died, of the people who helped to rescue children, of the officials who oversaw arrangements immediately afterwards. But just as evidence of what happened at that site is fading, the memory of what happened will fade too – from public consciousness and from the official record – if there is not written accounting to be relied on.

Imagine what would be publicly known or recorded about the tragedy at Armadale if there had been no Commission of Enquiry.

What happened that night at the Walker’s Place of Safety? What led to the death of the two children? Were their deaths preventable? Where is the accounting that would let us know?

 


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No Protocols, No Body-Worn Cameras: INDECOM’s Comments

INDECOM press conference 27-9-17 - Terrence WilliamsThe Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) held a press conference yesterday to give information about its 2nd Quarterly Report for 2017, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. During the press conference, INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams gave some important information about the organization’s experience of the use of body cameras by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). This information answers some of the questions I raised in my blog post a couple of days ago and certainly doesn’t lessen concerns that I have had.

No Body-Worn Cameras Worn By Officers Involved In Any Shooting Events Under INDECOM Investigation

The 2nd Quarterly Report 2017 includes a section which gives an update on recommendations of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry that are relevant to INDECOM’s remit. One of these had to do with body-worn cameras:

INDECOM 2nd Quarterly Report 2017 - WKGNCOE body cameras

INDECOM 2nd Quarterly Report 2017, p.35

In speaking about this recommendation, Commissioner Williams said the following:

The other issue was body-worn cameras. The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry said that this should be issued to police officers and soldiers, that is these cameras, without undue delay. We understand that the United States Embassy has donated body-worn cameras to the police force, but we are still hearing reports of delays in widespread implementation, and technical and policy issues have been cited to explain the delay. And in none of the shooting events that we have under investigation, including planned operations, were any body-worn cameras worn by the officers involved.

(Transcribed from recording of INDECOM September 27, 2017 press conference)

Seven months ago the JCF announced that some policemen in a number of divisions would begin to wear body cameras; I think it was said to be four divisions. It is extremely disturbing to now learn that in none of the shooting incidents being investigated by INDECOM were the officers involved wearing body cameras. Not even in planned operations. The JCF needs to let the public know what policy has guided who wears the body cameras and what has been recorded on them, if not footage of ANY shooting events. Indeed, what analysis has been done of the body camera use over this period? Maybe we even need to ask if the body cameras are in fact being worn at all.

INDECOM Has No Knowledge of Body-Worn Camera Protocols For Use Inside or Outside Of Special Zones

During the press conference, I asked Commissioner Williams whether the JCF has yet shared its body-worn camera protocols with INDECOM and whether INDECOM has been consulted regarding the body-worn camera protocols and procedures required under the Zones of Special Operations Act. This was his response:

We know of no protocols for the zones or otherwise. On our visit to the Zone we observed no-one wearing any cameras. It still seems to be for the JCF a work in progress, as regards the institution of the body-worn cameras, although they have some of the devices. We are eager to see this instituted, because one thing that most people don’t realise, and I’ll say it, most of the police shootings that you have in Jamaica have no witnesses but the police. So most of them will have no resolution but the police version, which may be true or it may be false. The body-worn camera provides that…an assistance in that accountability. And we were arguing from day one that why not use the body-worn cameras on those planned operations. So that you know you are going into a confrontation-type situation, it’s a very good time to wear the camera. So that your version of events can be depicted in this way of real evidence. We’re not seeing that at all. And we’ve had no update on it.

(Transcribed from recording of INDECOM September 27, 2017 press conference)

It is completely unacceptable and counterproductive  that the independent Commission of Parliament mandated “to undertake investigations concerning actions by members of the Security Forces and other agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of rights of persons” (Independent Commission of Investigations Act, 2010) has not been consulted regarding the protocols governing the use of body-worn cameras by the security forces. Neither in regard to the JCF’s protocols which should have been in place months ago nor for the protocols required by the more recent Zones of Special Operations Act. Body-worn cameras have been put forward as a tool to improve accountability and transparency in the operations of the security forces and to increase trust in these bodies. How can this be achieved in a situation in which INDECOM is left completely out of the loop? And if INDECOM has no knowledge of the protocols yet, at what point is it likely that the protocols will be shared with the public?

Inadequate protocols can undermine any benefit that might be gained by the use of body-worn cameras. How can we know if the protocols are adequate, if we don’t know what the protocols are?

It is imperative that INDECOM be immediately involved in the drafting of the body-worn camera protocols and procedures and that they be shared more broadly before they are finalised. The process to date does little to support the credibility of the use of body-worn cameras in Jamaica.

Note:INDECOM 2nd Quarterly Report 2017 cover

Normally I would have provided a link to a copy of the INDECOM Quarterly Report, but it hasn’t been posted online yet and I don’t yet have a soft copy. As soon as I can, I will post a link or a copy.

INDECOM 2nd Quarterly Report 2017

Related posts

Body-Worn Cameras: A Secret Transparency Tool?

350 Words or Less: Police Using Body Cameras, But What Protocol Is Regulating Their Use?


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Body-Worn Cameras: A Secret Transparency Tool?

I remain concerned that to date the public has no idea what protocols govern the use of body-worn cameras  by police or soldiers in Jamaica, although these cameras are now being used by the police here. Body-worn cameras are widely regarded as a tool that may enhance accountability and transparency in policing, bringing an additional source of information about interactions between the police and the public. Inadequate protocols governing their use can, however, completely undermine any benefit to be derived from the wearing of such cameras. How can the Jamaican public know if the protocols governing use of body-worn cameras here are adequate, if we don’t know what those protocols are?

Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) Act & Body-Worn Cameras

The recently passed Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations)(Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 makes provision for the wearing of body-worn cameras by members of the Joint Forces – police and soldiers – within declared special zones.

Section 19(1) of the Act says:Zones of Special Operations Section 19 1

Section 19(2) of the Act requires the establishment of protocols and procedures for the use of the cameras, setting out some of the matters that may be dealt with in the protocols and procedures.Zones of Special Operations Act Section 19 2 AZones of Special Operations Act Section 19 2 B

 

Prime Minister Holness’ Commitment

Last week I was able to put a question about the current status of these required protocols to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, via a tweet to Cliff Hughes during his  Online programme on Nationwide News Network. The Prime Minister was the guest on the weekly Ask The OPM segment of Hughes’ programme and was fielding questions by phone & social media. I asked:SG tweet 19-9-17 Hughes PM body cameras

Hughes asked the questions and PM Holness answered:

“The protocols are established but we have a resource challenge. So the police do have body cameras. We have still…we have identified a supplier and we need to outfit the military with cameras and that is being done. As I said earlier, this is a proof of concept and much learning is taking place. So all the protocols that were established will…we will review them to see how they actually work on the ground, but by the time the second zone is around, we should have final protocols. We’ll share them with the public; there is nothing secret about the ZOSO and we should be able to outfit all key personnel… operational personnel with body cameras.” (Transcribed from recording, Cliff Hughes Online, Nationwide News Network, September 19, 2017)

I am glad for the Prime Minister’s commitments that protocols have been established, that they will be finalised before a second zone is declared and that they will be made public. He didn’t say, however, whether the protocols have been shared with INDECOM (the Independent Commission of Investigations) and, at this point, we have no clear timelines for the things committed.

 

Police and body-worn cameras prior to ZOSO

The wearing of body-worn cameras by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) didn’t begin with the passage of the ZOSO Act or the declaration of the first Zone. Body-worn cameras have been recommended and discussed for many years in various quarters, including the government, civil society, international bodies and the JCF itself. In recent years, steps were taken to start the process within the JCF.

In 2014, then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting announced that select police units would begin to wear body cameras and “noted that a protocol [would] be established, making it mandatory for the officers to engage the cameras once they [were] going on an operation.”

 

In August 2016,  there was an official launch of the body-worn camera project at the Office of the Commissioner of Police. Then Commissioner Carl Williams said: “This is a significant step on the road to improving our human rights record and ultimately, public trust. As we accept these body-worn cameras, I cannot help but underscore the remarkable stimulus that they provide for Police reform, and conformity by suspects. These devices will provide greater transparency, build public trust and provide evidence against false accusations.” Minister of National Security Robert Montague “stated that these cameras [would] aid in significantly improving the trust between members of the Force and the public.”

In February this year, the JCF announced that some police had actually started wearing the provided body cameras.

At this point, INDECOM indicated its concern “that the JCF [had] not yet advised INDECOM as to the proposed procedures and protocols that [would] govern the use of the equipment, collection and storage of data, and subsequent viewing of the footage.” (INDECOM Press Release 21-2-17) In a discussion on Nationwide News Network the following morning, Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Constabulary Communications Unit, responded to INDECOM’s concerns saying that “We have a protocol that guides the operation of these cameras internally; it is not something that we would be discussing externally.” It is astounding that the JCF would consider it appropriate not to share the protocols governing the operation of body cameras with the independent oversight body mandated to investigate fatal shootings and allegations of abuse by the police. At the time of INDECOM’s May 26, 2017 press conference, they had still not seen the JCF’s protocols.

Given the approach of the JCF regarding INDECOM, it is hardly surprising that the JCF’s protocols haven’t been made public.

Protocols And Procedures

I have wondered whether the protocols and procedures governing the use of body-worn cameras within the declared special Zones would differ from those governing their use outside of the Zones. Indeed, I do not think that it is satisfactory that the drafting of such protocols should be left to the Heads of the Army and Police Force, with no requirement for consultation with any other body, INDECOM or the Office of the Public Defender, for example.

In a Twitter thread about body-worn cameras (yes, I do tweet a lot), I asked the following question and got a reply from Commissioner of Police Quallo:SG tweet 8-9-17 body camera protocols

COP Quallo tweet 10-9-17 body cameras protocols(*SOP = Standard Operation Procedure)

Finally, while the assurances of PM Holness are welcome, until the protocols are actually made public, they may be a comfort to a fool.

  • We do not know if the cameras already in use – since the declaration of the first Zone, since earlier this year (or before?) – have captured any footage relevant to any fatal shooting by the police or any alleged instance of abuse.
  • We do not know when cameras should be turned on or off and what sanctions there are for not complying with this.
  • We do not know if footage has been safely stored for the record or has been destroyed intentionally or inadvertently.
  • We do not know how long video is stored for or  who has access to such footage and under what circumstances? INDECOM? The police or soldiers involved in an incident? Lawyers – either for an accused person or the family of someone killed by the police or an involved policeman? Journalists? The public?
  • We know nothing about what has governed the use of the body-worn cameras to date and any video footage that has already been recorded.
  • Etc…

If the public doesn’t know what the protocols and procedures are, how can we know if they are adequate? And if we don’t know whether the protocols and procedures are adequate, how can the use of body cameras build trust?

Body-worn cameras can’t be a secret tool of transparency and accountability.

Related Post

350 Words or Less: Police Using Body Cameras, But What Protocol Is Regulating Their Use?

 

 

 


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Advertising for Police Commissioner & Other Public Posts

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Novelette Grant will assume the position of Acting-Commissioner on January 7, 2017, when the current Commissioner’s resignation takes effect. Commissioner Carl Williams’ resignation became public on December 22, 2016, when his resignation letter, submitted weeks earlier, was leaked. Commissioner Williams explained that the timing and manner in which his resignation became public knowledge wasn’t the best, as it had been planned that the news wouldn’t be made public until the selection of Acting-Commissioner had been completed. rjr-report-on-resignation-of-cop-williams-22-12-16This RJR report (including an audio clip from his interview with journalist Dionne Jackson Miller) was one of many media reports dealing with the news of Commissioner Williams’ resignation at the time.

The Ministry of National Security quickly issued a press release  thanking Commissioner Williams for his service and dealing with other issues connected with the resignation and replacement process. (mns-police-commissioner-to-demit-office-22-12-16)

dcp-novelette-grantThe following day, the Police Service Commission (PSC) announced that DCP Grant would act as Commissioner during the search period, a process that is expected to take 90 days. In a speech on Sunday (Jan 1, 2017), DCP Grant made the pragmatic statement that there would be no miracles in the process of dealing with crime and none should be expected of her.

Also on Sunday, the advertisement for the post of Commissioner was carried in the press. It focussed on the duties and responsibilities of Commissioner and set out the deadline and contacts for submission of applications. DCP Grant is so far the only person to have publicly declared an intention to apply for the post and she is, in fact, a very likely candidate for selection.

gleaner-advt-for-commissioner-of-police-1-1-17-pt-1gleaner-advt-for-commissioner-of-police-1-1-17-pt-2

I think that the advertisement posted is seriously lacking in one regard. It does not set out in any specificity the qualifications and experience required of applicants for the post of Commissioner of Police. What level of experience in law enforcement is required? Must experience be within policing or will experience in some other context be considered, for example the military, correctional services or private security? Is there a minimum number of years of experience necessary for consideration? What level of supervisory/managerial experience is required? What are the preferred and minimum educational requirements for the post? These are a few of the requirements that could reasonably be expected to be specified in such an advertisement. It would also be useful to know if the PSC is advertising the post outside of Jamaica, regionally or further afield.

I have long thought that this is an approach that should be taken routinely when advertising vacant public posts, not just for the current vacancy for Commissioner of Police. It gives the public a clearer idea of the criteria considered important for successful fulfilment of the job. It also gives the public a basis for evaluating how well the candidate eventually appointed meets the required qualifications and experience for the post. This would support the increased move towards transparency and accountability required in modern approaches to good governance. It is not too late for the PSC to adopt this approach, and perhaps it is time for this to become routine and required when advertising  vacancies for public posts in Jamaica.