About two weeks ago there was an article in the Gleaner with the headline Police Not Making Full Use of Body Cameras – Commissioner, in which the new Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson seems to have given us a somewhat clearer idea of why to date no member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been wearing a body-camera in any incident requiring investigation by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). No fatal shooting, no shooting resulting in injury, no altercation, nothing. No incident occurring on any planned operation, not on any unplanned operation, not on any planned stationary vehicle check point, nothing. And this after these body-cameras were introduced with much hype and fanfare, having been donated by the US Embassy in August 2016. (See blog post Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?)
As one of the “different sectors of the society asking for an update on the cameras and why there was no footage from any operations that featured body cameras”, I was intrigued to see the Commissioner being quoted as follows regarding the lack of use of the body cameras:
“One, you don’t have enough, and, two, our uniforms don’t have the technology to actually properly wear them. We are looking at some other models that we have seen recently. We have met some representatives up to last week that, perhaps, will suit what we do better”. (Gleaner, May 9, 2018)
An inadequate number of body cameras does not explain why the available cameras have not been deployed on planned operations where confrontations are most likely to occur. A logical approach would see these operations as priority for deployment. The other reason given is beyond belief…that police uniforms don’t have the “technology” for attaching the body cameras properly! When was this deficiency first discovered? Was there no consultation between the JCF and the US Embassy before the particular body cameras were obtained and donated? At what point was it planned to inform the public of this ridiculous problem preventing use of the body cameras? Does this mean that the existing body cameras are to be discarded?
The article also quotes Commissioner Anderson as saying:
“When you introduce new things and new capabilities, it’s a process. You don’t just buy something to stick them on. There’s a training component, there’s an equipment back-up component, a logistics component, a command and control component to it. There’s a whole thing that you used to deliver capabilities, but we haven’t been that good at it”. (Gleaner, May 9, 2018)
So the announcement of the donation of the body cameras in August 2016 and the announcement of the deployment of the cameras in February 2017 and the failure to give any official update to the public regarding the use of the body cameras or any official evaluation of the project has all resulted in the declared use of body cameras by the JCF being an elaborate comfort to a fool.
I am glad that the Commissioner of Police has answered some questions from a reporter, but perhaps it is time for a full and official update by the Minister of National Security in Parliament.
(I have now done 5 or 6 blog posts about the body-worn cameras and the JCF, if you wish more information about the issue.)
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.
In September 2017, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request for
“copies of any protocols, procedures, guidelines, etc governing the use of body-worn cameras by members of the JCF. I am interested in copies of any such documents that are currently in force or have been used at any time in the past.”
I initially submitted the request to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) directly and it was subsequently transferred to the Ministry of National Security, which is where I am told it ought to have been submitted in the first place. After much back and forth and delay, and with the assistance of the ATI Unit, today I received a copy of the JCF’s Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras. The cover of the document indicates that it was developed in November 2017 & disseminated as an Appendix to the JCF Force Orders No. 3675, dated November 9, 2017. (These dates may indicate in part the reason for the delay in response to my ATI request made in September 2017.)Click here to access a copy of the document: JCF Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras Nov 2017
I have had a chance to do only a quick read through the document, which does not seem to be sufficiently detailed and specific on first reading. There also seem to be a number of gaps, with some significant issues left unaddressed. I’ll obviously consider it more closely when I read through it again, but in the meantime, what do you think? I have repeatedly said, “If the public doesn’t know what the protocols and procedures are, how can we know if they are adequate?” So here they are. Are they adequate?
In two press releases this week, the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) reported on eight people having been killed in the past seven days by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). In one of those incidents, members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were also involved.
The first release was issued on Monday:
The second release was issued today:
The incidents took place in 5 different parishes: Kingston, St Catherine, Clarendon, St Mary and St James. As it investigates the incidents, INDECOM is asking anyone who may have witnessed or may have information about any of the fatal shootings to contact the organization.
One question I would ask is if any of the police involved in any of the fatal shooting incidents was wearing a body-worn camera and if there is any footage of the incidents. This would be particularly relevant to the incident in Salt Spring in St James, as that is reported as having ocurred during a planned police operation carried out by Mobile Reserve.
At a press conference on September 27, 2017, INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams spoke to the potential usefulness of body-worn cameras, saying:
“…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.”
He also made the startling statement:
“…in none of the shooting events that we have under investigation, including planned operations, were any body-worn cameras worn by the officers involved.”
I think Commissioner of Police George Quallo needs to say whether the announced JCF body-worn camera programme is in operation or has been abandoned outside of the Zones of Special Operations.
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
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.
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:
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 SecurityRobert Montague “stated that these cameras [would] aid in significantly improving the trust between members of the Force and the public.”
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:
(*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.
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.