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:
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 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:
(*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.