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:
There 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.
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 –
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:
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.
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?
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.)
Listen to Nationwide News Network’s special report “Hidden Culture”. It is narrated by Nationwide’s Marjorie Gordon and centres on an interview with a serving member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It is a chilling account of the ways in which extrajudicial killings are carried out and covered up by members of the police force, with the involvement of gazetted ranks. The policeman’s voice has been distorted to protect his identity. It was first broadcast on March 21, 2018, was rebroadcast a number of times that week and is now posted on SoundCloud.
Many of the things that he spoke about are things that have been reported on before, things that I have heard of over many years. The difference here is that a serving policeman is giving a personal account in an interview being broadcast on radio.
“You’re a constable going to work and you realise that your name is set to go on an operation to be conducted 3 o’clock in the morning. So, I go on the operation. When I go on the operation with several other officers, we are briefed by the officer in charge of that operation, who is sometimes a Deputy Superintendent, sometimes an Insepector, sometimes even a Superintendent himself. And what we are told to do, the instructions that we are given on that operation, kill!…We’re going fah a particular person and wi not going to lock him up. There were times when members would ask the question, “So Supa, when we hold So-and-So, what di position? Jail or morgue?” And we are told, “Mi nuh inna nuh jail business.”…As a young constable on an operation like that, what am I to do? What am I to do? Can I stand in the crowd of twenty, thirty police officers and say I’m not going? I can’t do that. So I go on the operation, as a part of this operation, and when I see my colleagues fire shots in an innocent man….I’ve been on operations where I myself have fired. It does something to you. It did something to me and it has…it is doing something to others out there. I have a lot of colleagues who are lost in the culture. I realise…I have realised and I have come to the conclusion, most of us, we have lost ourselves because of how we are taught in the streets when we leave training school.” (Transcribed from Nationwide News Network’s ‘Hidden Culture’)
It has long been known that the problem is not simply one of individual rogue police, but that there is a culture within Jamaica’s police force that supports the use of extrajudicial killings as a crime fighting method. And there are those outside the JCF, across the society, who believe this also and would want us as a people to turn a blind eye and allow the police to do weh dem haffi do.
If we want to change this culture, to rid the JCF of this approach, to have a police service that is unequivocally committed to lawful, professional, accountable and rights-centred policing, then we have to seize opportunities for change. At the moment, three such opportunities present themselves.
A New Commissioner of Police
A new Commissioner of Police was sworn in on Monday, March 19, 2018 – Major General Antony Anderson. He is a former head of the Army and is very familiar with the national security situation in Jamaica. One person alone cannot change the culture within and reform the JCF. A Commissioner can, however, provide the type of leadership that may facilitate such change. Whether Commissioner Anderson will (or will be able to) achieve the necessary change remains to be seen, but his appointment opens up an opportunity.
(An associated issue that does need to be considered is how much reliance on the military for/in policing is a good thing. For another blog post perhaps.)
On March 22, 2018, the day after the first broadcast of Nationwide’s special report, the JCF issued a statement in response, which said that
“The purported actions, which are being recounted by an alleged lawman, are categorically condemned by the High Command as they do not align with the principles and standards of a modern Police Force.
The JCF has implemented a series of measures to reinforce acceptable standards of behaviour by its members, particularly with respect to use of force, human rights and engagement with the public.”
It pointed to the JCF’s Early Intervention System, described as “a proactive approach to identifying members who may display tendencies of abnormal behaviour and thereby allowing for timely intervention.” It also mentioned the oversight roles of the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM), the Inspectorate of Constabulary (IOC) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). It promised “to further seek to create a mechanism that will allow persons who have information in these matters to offer same in confidence and without fear.”
Perhaps I have heard too many such statements over the years to find this reassuring. What actions will follow?
On March 21, 2018, human rights NGO Jamaicans for Justice issued a press release calling for Parliament to make amendments to the INDECOM Act:
Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck have said that a Parliamentary Committee is to be established to review the INDECOM Act…again. At this point there is no clear indication of the timeline for the establishment of the Committee, how long it is likely to meet or when it will produce and table its report. It also isn’t clear whether it will be asked to review the Act in its entirety or only specific aspects of the Act, those affected by the Court of Appeal judgments, for example. It isn’t clear what weight, if any, will be given to the review done by the 2013 – 2015 JSC or if the public will have the opportunity to make submissions to the new Committee. And after the Committee tables its report, what action will the Parliament take in regard to its recommendations? What if there is a change of government after the report is tabled? Will that delay Parliament taking any action on the Committee’s recommendations, as seems to have been the case with the 2013 – 2015 Committee’s recommendations?
So we continue to wait…to see what Parliament will do and when and whether it will use this opportunity to strengthen or weaken the important role INDECOM plays regarding accountability for the police force.
The Police Service Act to Replace the Constabulary Force Act
“Implement a full legislative review that leads to (i) completion of a draft new Police Service Act to replace the Jamaica Constabulary Force
Act, that supports the modernization and transformation of the
Jamaica Constabulary Force into a modern intelligence-led police
service that ensures Citizen Security, with stronger systems of
administration, management and internal discipline….” (p 21)
This proposed new legislation is obviously an important opportunity for reform of the police force. True reform – the modernisation and transformation being referred to – cannot be achieved by tinkering around the edges of the current legislation or by focusing primarily on increasing the powers of the police. It cannot be accomplished without full and genuine consultation with the people the police service is intended to serve. The legislation cannot be rushed through Parliament without allowing adequate time and opportunity for those who wish to make submissions about the draft legislation to do so. Indeed, it would be best if there were also consultation on the actual draft legislation before it was tabled in Parliament. I know that new legislation is only one part of what needs to be done, but we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for change.
How these three opportunities are handled will have an impact on many aspects of the workings of the police force and whether we move nearer to or further from achieving a professional and accountable police service. One marker in that process – nearer to or further from – will be the impact on that hidden culture of extrajudicial killings.
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.
I was saddened to learn on Sunday of the sudden death of Asma Jahangir, the remarkable Pakistani lawyer and human rights advocate, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66. Ms Jahangir was a courageous human rights defender, who had great impact within her own country, as well as internationally in a number of capacities and on a number of issues.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind […] She will not be forgotten,” he added, expressing his condolences to Ms. Jahangir’s family, friends and colleagues, including in the UN and civil society.
I had the privilege of meeting Ms Jahangir when she visited Jamaica in 2003, for a country visit in her capacity of then United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I sat with a number of clients of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – family members of people who had been killed by the police – as they individually told her about the death of their loved ones. At times I helped with translation, when Ms Jahangir wasn’t clear what was being said in patois.
I was struck by the sensitivity, compassion and respect shown towards the family members by Ms Jahangir during her interviews, as they recounted their experiences, often in traumatic detail. Hers was an attitude that was often not shown to them by local officials, as they navigated the long and frustrating search for justice for their relatives.
On the last day of her visit, February 27, 2003, Ms Jahangir held a press conference at the Ministry of Justice to give some initial remarks regarding her observations.
The Gleaner report of the press conference included the following:
A United Nations-led independent assessment of reports of human rights violations in Jamaica has determined that extrajudicial killings are still rampant with not enough policemen being punished for their actions.
Asma Jahangir, the UN Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, yesterday told a press conference at the Ministry of Justice, Oxford Road, New Kingston, after her 10-day mission to the island, that many of the reports she received during her research indicated excessive use of force and targeted killings of individuals which could amount to extrajudicial killings and executions.
“In a number of cases there are strong indications that these reports might be accurate,” Ms. Jahangir said.
“There is a strong belief among the disadvantaged that the police and security forces abuse them with impunity. I’ve often heard the term uptown and downtown
justice being used to describe the notion that two different standards of justice were being applied. Another disturbing element of these reports was the allegations of the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Government in recognising this problem.”
She expressed concern that influential pressure groups justified the excessive use of force as a legitimate measure to fight crime; at the deep anguish expressed by the families of those killed by the police and the frustration of witnesses; that a number of people interviewed showed their reluctance in testifying to such killings as they were afraid of reprisals and had little confidence in the criminal legal system; and that she had received reports of threats by the police against families of the deceased.
Ms. Jahangir, however, had high commendations for the Government’s efforts, and expressed high hopes for change if the conclusions and recommendations from her pending report are considered.
She welcomed the fact that in the last few years the resource allocation to the Police
Public Complaints Authority(PPCA) had been enhanced and that several steps had been taken to further develop the training of police and the security forces, to strengthen community policing and to establish the Police Service Commission.
“Almost everybody I met confirmed that there is an official recognition that despite the high levels of crime, it is crucial to ensure that the police and security forces act in accordance with the law,” she said. “ However, I regret that the public discourse centres on the issue of crime without sufficiently recognising that rough and easy justice only adds to more crime and bitter crime.”
Ms. Jahangir’s mission was prompted by reports of killings of civilians by the police and security forces and included meetings with representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary’s Bureau of Special Investigations, the PPCA, the Jamaica Constabulary’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and Jamaicans for Justice.
She is now mandated to recommend further constructive measures that the Government can take in addressing the challenges they are facing.
“ I’m not satisfied, of course, otherwise I would not be here,” she said. “There have been convictions of 136 policemen (between 1990 and 2001) on complaints of abuses
but not on extrajudicial killings. I believe the number is very, very low when it comes to this, it is possibly just a couple…”
She said that she was impressed with the openness of Government leaders and ordinary citizenry in expressing their concerns.
Gleaner, February 28, 2003, pp A1 & A6
Later that year, Ms Jahangir’s report was delivered and included references to the wide range of individuals and organizations she met with. It outlined the context of her visit and detailed the concerns that arose from her observations. A number of individual cases were described: Janice Allen and her family, Richard Williams, Michael Gayle, Basil Brown, Patrick Genius, the persons killed and injured in West Kingston in July 2001 and the Braeton 7. The report ended with a list of conclusions and recommendations. Nearly fifteen years later, it is worth reading to note both what changes have taken place and what remains more or less the same.
“When you start off, there’s something inside you telling you to do it. And it comes because you have a heart and an eye and the courage to stand up against those forces—and there are plenty of them, believe me—that do not wish to see people free. Human rights, it’s not a job, it’s a conviction. I have used the law as an instrument, and I’ve used the courts, but I have been on the streets, as well. I’ve been in protest marches. I have been to prison. I’ve been under house arrest. So, for each issue and for each incident, there has to be a thought-out strategy. Justice is a rare commodity in our part of the world. Very rare. But sometimes even shouting for justice gives you some satisfaction that you’re being heard. And you must be heard. You knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and one day they are going to hear.”
(I was Chairperson of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice in 2003, when Ms Jahangir visited. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)
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?
Last year January the Police Service Commission (PSC) was in the process of “seeking to identify a suitably qualified candidate either from within or outside the Jamaica Constabulary Force to fill the post of Commissioner of Police as soon as possible.” Less than a year after the new Commissioner of Police was appointed, the PSC is again in that process, as Commissioner George Quallo is set to demit office this week.
In a blog post on January 3, 2017, Advertising for Police Commissioner & Other Public Posts, I shared the advertisement for Commissioner of Police placed in the newspapers on January 1 that year and raised some concerns about the advertising and selection process, concerns which I continue to have.
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.
As Commissioner Quallo leaves office and as the selection process for the new Commissioner takes place, the public has no specific idea of what qualifications and experience the PSC is looking for in a “suitably qualified candidate”, beyond “strong managerial experience”. The public has no idea how well the outgoing Commissioner fit the PSC’s criteria and will have no idea how well the new Commissioner selected fits those criteria, unless the PSC decides to be more forthcoming this time round.
As would be expected, there are discussions in the traditional and social media about what people would want to see in a new Commissioner. One thread of discussion is that the new Commissioner should be someone capable of leading a process of reform/change/transformation in the police force. As Professor Anthony Clayton said in a discussion on the Nationwide News programme Nationwide @ Five yesterday, “So we are not looking for a continuity candidate; we are looking for a change candidate.”
But the question arises: Change to what? It has long been known that there is a need for fundamental reform of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and over many years there have been reviews and reports giving recommendations for such reform. The 2008 Strategic Review of the JCF report detailed many such recommendations itself, and in its Appendix E provided a useful review of the recommendations of a number of previous reports. If we are expecting the new Commissioner of Police to lead reform of the JCF, it would be good if there were a clear, accepted, official outline of what that reform would look like and would entail.
In Parliament last week (January 23, 2018), Minister of National Security Robert Montague gave an update on “a number of issues pertaining to National Security”; this was in the context of the State of Public Emergency declared for the parish of St James the previous week. In a section of his presentation titled Legislative changes, Minister Montague reiterated the Government’s intention to :replace the current Act governing the JCF:
Sir, we intend to table within 6 months a Police Service Act which will replace the
150 year old Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Act which will be subsequently
repealed. The goal is to break with the past and create a modern Police Service
befitting our times and to better protect the members and serve the public.
This is another important opportunity for reform of the JCF, but the proposed new legislation cannot simply be the old legislation subjected to some level of tinkering. It needs to be reflective of a fundamentally different approach to policing. It is also necessary that there is adequate time allotted for review of and consultation on the draft legislation by members of the public. If this is to be legislation creating a modern Police Service, then it must undergo such a process of consultation with the people the new Police Service is to serve.
Over decades, we have come time and again to the point of stating that reform of the police force is a necessary part of being able to deal with the high level of violent crime that has long plagued Jamaica. Perhaps one day there will actually be the political and societal will to undertake the necessary reform.
Last night – January 11, 2018, in an address to the Kiwanis Club of Spanish Town, Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Terrence Williams spoke about the often repeated claim that the work of INDECOM has had a chilling effect on police morale and has reduced their ability to perform their crime reduction functions effectively. Variations of this claim have been made by a number of people and organizations, including the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet, members of the Opposition when they formed the Government, members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), including representatives of the Police Federation, which represents the rank and file members of the Force.
Address by Terrence Williams Commissioner, INDECOM at the Kiwanis Club of Spanish Town January 11, 2018 Title: INDECOM and Police Effectiveness: A Statistical Analysis
I am sure you have often heard the claim that INDECOM has reduced police effectiveness causing an increase in crime. Some even say that the first step to reduce crime is to end INDECOM as we know it. These claims are dismissed by many as unfounded and illogical, but the effort to convince by repetition continues relentlessly. Of course there are some who may argue that the police must have a “free hand” and advocate that our national problem will be resolved if the police can act free of regulation and oversight. Those who peddle these arguments are then faced with this question: “Are you saying that the police cannot be effective if they are to be accountable for their actions?”
This evening a different approach will be taken in a reply, based purely on objective
statistics. Has the advent of INDECOM been coincidental with an increase in murder?
Recall that INDECOM started its full operations in April 2011. Table 1, shows a general decline in murders since 2011. The average annual rate for 2004 to 2010 is 1554 murders per year whilst from 2011 to 2017 it is 1226. Thus there were, on average, 300 less murder victims since the introduction of INDECOM. It is also useful to further contextualize these figures against the population of Jamaica and in so doing let us turn our attention to the murder rate per 100,000 persons for the period stated above. The average murders per 100,000 for the pre-INDECOM period was 57.90 compared to 45.86 per 100,000 persons during the INDECOM period.
Similarly, the JCF statistics also reveal that the number of police officers killed has
significantly declined since the inauguration of INDECOM. All murders are deplorable but the killing of a police officer is particularly so given the fact that we depend on these brave men and women to preserve our social order.
On these facts, the claims that INDECOM’s existence contributes to the rise in crime in Jamaica and that the police need a “free hand” to fight crime is not supported. The search for causes and solutions for our endemic crime problem must therefore be sought elsewhere.
If we are looking at reasons for our high murder rates, we should consider the period after the year 2000 with consistently more than 1000 per year; and note the conditions that continue to prevail namely, the failure to effectively address organized crime.
If we are seeking solutions we should further look at the post 2010 period when murders were reduced by almost 40%. Professor Anthony Clayton, continues to point out that “this significant reduction in such a short time was seen almost nowhere else in the world before” and that “Jamaica did not follow through with the measures necessary to solve the crime problem and so we have returned to where we started”. It is submitted that the needed “follow through” was to get to the root of organized criminal gangs and to fully institute community policing.
Nicaragua, can provide some examples of how to sustainably reduce crime. Nicaragua’s neighbours, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all suffer from high per capita murder rates. Honduras and El Salvador are amongst the highest in the world at 86 and 70 murders per 100,000 respectively. In 2015, Nicaragua’s murder rate was 7 per 100, 000 persons. Remarkably, Nicaragua maintains this low murder rate although, there is free movement of people in the region and so criminals can easily cross borders to commit crimes; despite being poorer than its neighbours, and having the lowest ratio of police to the population.
Nicaragua engaged in significant police reform to root out corruption. The model of
policing is a preventative and proactive one rooted in the heart of the community. Strong intelligence networks are employed especially in areas where organized crime is prevalent. Nicaragua recognized that repressive policing only achieves short term results. Jamaica can certainly learn from the Nicaraguan proactive community based policing model, because it is inclusive and instills a sense of confidence in the police service, one supported by a strong accountable and professional policing framework.
Another argument too often heard is that the police are less responsive to criminal activities because their morale is adversely affected by INDECOM’s investigation and charges. However, since inception only a small percentage of investigations have ended in charges. Further in 2014, the year of the greatest number of charges laid by INDECOM, also saw the lowest number of murders (1005) for 11 years. Notably, as seen in Table 2, where murders and police fatal shootings are considered together, the general tendency of an increase in fatal shootings when murders increase, continued after INDECOM started operations.
Consider Table 2 again. You may note three things. First, that, for a generation, we have had high rates of police involved killings but that these killings have declined since INDECOM started its operations. Secondly, there was a 16.25% decline in murders between 2013 and 2014 and in the same year a reduction in police fatal shootings by 55%. Thirdly, that the consistent high rates of police involved killings seem to have had no lasting effect on the murder rate.
The Ministry of National Security’s 2008 JCF Strategic Review: A New Era in Policing in Jamaica found that the JCF had weak internal accountability and was hobbled by endemic unlawful cultures. It is unfortunate that this Review is not more often consulted. It was the product of an august panel assembled by the State towards finding ways to improve the JCF. The Review is freely available online. I invite you to read it. Please pay particular attention to the “corrupt practices that have become endemic” frankly outlined on page 26. In the face of such unlawfulness how could the JCF be effective?
The Review called for “concerted, long term and coordinated effort” by the JCF and its oversight bodies to tackle the malignant cultures in the police force. INDECOM is playing its part in this very effort, yet naysayers continue to claim that this endeavor is stymying the work of the police. The JCF’s cultures rendered it ineffective to control crime and instead contributed to crime. These cultures could not have taken root unless they benefitted a group of persons and that group remains loathe to see the change that will relieve them of such improper advantage.
A disciplined police force cannot operate contrary to the law and in a state where some of its members are in continuous disaffection. Resisting and scapegoating the oversight mechanisms will only delay the needed change and distract from the real causes of crime.
The advent of INDECOM and the overall reform of the JCF to promote accountability,
ought to result in a sustainable reduction in crime. But, a resistant JCF retards such
There is nothing to suggest that the work of INDECOM has caused an increase in crime. An accountable police force is an effective police force.
In his presentation, Commissioner Williams referred to the 2008 JCF Strategic Review. For convenience, here are copies of that document and its appendices:
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.