Right Steps & Poui Trees


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INDECOM Reports 8 Police Fatal Shootings in the Past Week: Any Body-Worn Camera Footage?

INDECOM logo 2In 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:INDECOM Nov 6 2017 release aINDECOM Nov 6 2017 release b

The second release was issued today:INDECOM Nov 9 2017 release

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.

Terrence WilliamsAt 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.”

COP QualloI 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.

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$75 Million Allocated To Retrofit Police Lock-Ups For Children: So What Happened?

Parliament - gordon-house-2In 2013, the Jamaican Parliament was told that $75 million was to be spent retrofitting five police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas for the detention of children. In 2017, a Parliamentary Committee has now been told that the retrofitting of four lock-ups was completed in 2015 and that the areas were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The Committee was also told, however, that the retrofitting was so poorly done that the “child friendly” lock-ups have never been used and that it will take an additional $32 million for recommended repairs to be done, $17 million of which has already been allocated in the 2017 – 18 budget.

At its last two meetings, Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee has discussed this much-touted government programme for retrofitting police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas. The information shared in those meetings raises serious questions about the implementation of the programme and the money spent on what some, myself included, thought to be an ill-conceived idea when it was originally proposed.

On September 19, 2017, the Committee  had a meeting, which Opposition MP Peter Bunting chaired, and discussed a Ministry of National Security (MNS) report titled Status of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Island Wide – June 30 2017. Committee members expressed dissatisfaction with the report and raised concerns about some of its contents. They decided to ask MNS representatives to attend the Committee’s next meeting to provide further information and to answer questions that had arisen.

Fitz Jackson MP

MP Fitz Jackson

 

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, the Committee met again, this time with Opposition MP Fitz Jackson as Chair; having recently been appointed Opposition Shadow Minister of National Security, he has taken over from MP Bunting as Committee Chairman. The delegation from the MNS and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JFC) that appeared before the Committee was led by Mrs Mitsy Beaumont-Daley, Acting Chief Technical Director at the MNS, and Commissioner of Police George Quallo. The MNS submitted an updated report titled Report – Physical Condition of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Islandwide – October 5 2017 to the Committee. This was accompanied by a report of inspections made of the four relevant police lock-ups on September 26 & 27, 2017 and a collection of photographs showing the physical condition of the facilities.

Background to Decision to Retrofit Lock-Ups

The October 5, 2017 MNS report gives the background to the decision to retrofit these four police lock-ups:

“An Inter-Ministerial Working Group was established in September 2012 by the then Ministry of Youth and Culture. The primary purpose of the Working Group was to examine the issues and challenges that affect children within the care of the State.

A significant focus of the Committee was to provide a solution for the separation of juveniles who come in conflict with the law from adults in police lock-ups. In this regard a programme was developed to establish self-contained child friendly holding units to accommodate such children. Thirteen (13) units were to be established in strategic locations across the fourteen parishes with Kingston and St. Andrew operating as one facility. The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was identified as the source of funding and the facilities were constructed by the National Works Agency (NWA).

The plan was to retrofit/construct the units in phases. Four (4) were to be completed in the first phase namely Bridgeport in St. Catherine, Barrett Town in St. James, Moneague in St. Ann and Nain in St. Elizabeth. By 2015 all facilities were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, except for Nain.” p. 1

Indeed, then Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna reported on the retrofitting programme in her Sectoral Debate presentation in 2013:Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 28Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 29

And again in 2014:

Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p12Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p13

The October 5, 2017 MNS report points out that the programme completely failed to deliver what had been promised:

“Following the handing over of the facilities, a walk through was conducted which revealed that the buildings were not as safe and secure as they appeared. Several defects were observed that were described as “potential” safety hazards as well as unfinished works.

Discussions were held with the contractors (NWA and JEEP) who gave assurance that the matters would be addressed in short order. However, as at September 27, 2017, only one station (Bridgeport) toilet facility was reconfigured, the others have not been addressed and the newly constructed structures were left to deteriorate.”

One has to ask, as did some of the members of the Committee, what level of consultation took place regarding the design of these facilities? What monitoring took place while the work was being done? And what accountability has there been regarding the poor quality of the completed work, at and since the point of handover?

Identified Problems at Retrofitted Lock-Ups

The MNS October 2017 report outlines the problems that they identified with the rerofitted facilities:MNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws aMNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws b

Looking at just one of the issues of concern, items (iii) and (iv) deal with the basic and important issue of proper ventilation. In the MNS June 30, 2017 report, three of the four facilities are identified as having a problem with ventilation and some very stark language is used to describe the problem.

Barrett Town: “9. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation.”

Moneague: “5. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation if the windy climate at Moneague should cease.”

Nain: “The facility is not suitable for habitation due to very poor ventilation.”

The September 2017 MNS inspection report uses less dramatic language in describing the ventilation problem and the associated recommendations, but the problem remains as a concern:MNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report aMNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report b

The provided photographs give a visual indication of the situation being described:MNS police lock ups photos - Oct 2017 report The MNS October 2017report speaks of the facilities being “constructed from a prototype plan”. What did this plan require regarding ventilation? Who was consulted in designing this plan? What standards were used as a guideline for developing this plan?

And if it is said that the prototype plan was adequate, is it that the work done varied from the plan? If so, wasn’t this noticed while the work was being done? And again, why has there been no accountability for the poor work done? Why is it that the facilities remained unused and deteriorating, after so much money was spent?

What Next?

At the end of the Committee meeting on October 10, MP Jackson said that the scope of the investigation into the use of public funds for this retrofitting went beyond the mandate of the Internal and External Affairs Committee. He said that the Committee would complete its report to Parliament on the matter and that further investigation would need to be done by the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) and/or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

This is a matter that demands explanation and accountability, at the stages of planning, implementation and sign off. With all that is needed for children who come into conflict with the law, with the often heard excuse of lack of resources, we owe it to them to demand that the Parliament does its part in achieving full accountability.

In this post, I have focussed on the expenditure and the facilities, but there remains the substantive problem of children being held in police lock-ups. The situation has changed somewhat in the past few years, but there is still a need for the government to present a more careful analysis of data to identify the causes of the problem and whether this is the best solution.

If $75 million has already been spent and an additional $32 million is to be spent, is the end result after spending $107 million really going to be the best solution for the children involved?

The Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament

Many of us may not be familiar with the mandate of Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee and may wonder why this matter came before it. The Standing Orders of Parliament gives a description of the Committee’s role, which makes this clearer:Internal and External Committee

(From Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica 1964 )

The current members of this Committee are:

Members of Parliament: Mr Fitz Jackson (Chair), Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, Mr Dave Brown, Mr Leslie Campbell, Mr Heroy Clarke, Mr Horace Dalley, Mr Colin Fagan, Mr Floyd Green, Mr Alando Terrelong and Mr Franklin Witter.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)


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JCF Administrative Review Committee Clears JCF…Of Pretty Much Everything

Two days ago (August 8, 2017) Commissioner of Police George Quallo released the “Report of Administrative Review Committee Appointed to Review Conduct of JCF Named Officers During the 2010 West Kingston Operation and Related Matters”.

 

(Click for JCF West Kingston Administrative Review Committee Report – June 2017)

Since the release, there has been increasing discussion of the report, with expressions of criticism and concern. I have been among those expressing concerns as, having read the report, I believe it raises questions of process, substance and tone. I think that beyond the report itself, there is also the consideration of its wider impact on issues of post-Commission of Enquiry processes and of police accountability.

The Committee started its review on February 28, 2017 and concluded on June 19, 2017, having had eleven sittings. Its Terms of Reference (TOR) were as follows:JCF Administrative Review Committee TORThe members of the Committee were:JCF Admin Review Comm members

The findings of the Committee were as follows:

TOR 1

1a) 3.11 The Committee, having reviewed the Operations Plan, agreed that the Command Structure was appropriate for the task.

1b) 4.8 Having reviewed the Operations Plan, reports and statements of the JCF officers vital to the Terms of Reference, the Committee agreed that the Command Protocol was adequate.

1c & 1d) 5.10 Upon a thorough review of the conduct of the operation, the Committee agreed unanimously, that the span of control was clear and the span of command effective.

1e) 6.18 Despite the absence of the CIB participation and the delays occasioned by the prevailing circumstances, the Committee agreed that effective and adequate investigations were carried out in instances where deadly force was used.

6.19 The Committee finds that there was a system to ensure effective and adequate
investigations in the event of the resort to use of force by members of the JCF.

6.20 The Committee finds that the system was not followed according to the plan. However, the BSI rose to the occasion.

TOR 2

7.63 Upon a complete and thorough examination of the evidence, including, the Operation Plan, various reports, transcripts and statements; and for the reasons stated above, no basis could be found by the Committee, upon which any of the Named Officers should be cited for misconduct and/or dereliction of duty.

In the final account, the Committee found that the JCF, its systems, performance and members were “appropriate”, “adequate”, “clear”, “effective”, “effective”, “adequate”, “effective”, “adequate”, “rose to the occasion”, without basis to “be cited for misconduct and/or dereliction of duty”. The report and its findings give little indication of the kind of self-reflection that would be valuable to the police force following the events of 2010 and the report and recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry.  There is a sense of the-JCF-did-nothing-wrong-time-to-move-on.

As required by TOR 3, recommendations were given:JCF Admin Review Comm recommendations 1JCF Admin Review Comm recommendations 2

I have some questions about the process of the Administrative Review, including the following:

– In its June 30, 2016 press release responding to the Commission of Enquiry report, the JCF committed to establishing an Independent Administrative Review Panel which would be composed of  “one Deputy Commissioner of Police, the head of the Inspectorate of the Constabulary (IOC), one member of the Police Service Commission (PSC), one member of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA), and one independent person, preferably an attorney at law, to be selected by the PSC and PCOA.” Why was the proposed composition for the Panel not eventually followed?

– What were the reasons that resulted in the review taking eight months to begin?

– The Committee made an initial decision not to require any of the 5 named officers to appear before it and even when one member of the Committee made a formal request for two of the officers to appear, the majority decision was not to require this. What was the reasoning behind not making use of the presence of the officers to give additional clarity during the review process?JCF Admin Review Comm methodology

There are points at which the Committee’s tone seems to be defensive and dismissive in a manner that is not appropriate or useful. One such instance of this is in a section entitled “Other Evidence”.JCF Admin Review Comm - other evidence

The assertion in 7.44 that the Commission didn’t seem to be concerned with the dangerous nature of the operation and the heavy gunfire faced by officers on the ground is hard to understand if one watched the proceedings of the Enquiry or if one has read the Commission’s report. Chapter 4, for example, is squarely focused on this matter, and its contents and findings contradict this assertion in the Administrative Review Report.WKGN COE report Ch 4 pic

The assertion in 7.44 also seems to be dismissive of the concern with collection of bodies shown by the Commission. Scores of people died during the May 2010 operation, 69 according to the Commission’s findings. This was one of the most grave outcomes of the operation. It was absolutely necessary that the Commission devote attention to uncovering information that could assist in establishing the circumstances in which these people died. The collection of bodies was not something detached from this process, as the time, location and manner of such collection could contribute valuable information.

AHHThe Office of the Public Defender has been involved from the start in the process of seeking the truth about what happened in the May 2010 operation. It is not surprising that the current Public Defender, Arlene Harrison Henry, has issued a statement about the just released JCF report. In the statement, she calls for the withdrawal of the Administrative Review Committee report and she has indicated that her Office has written to the Attorney General for an opinion on the way forward. (Click for Office of the Public Defender – Press Release re JCF Administrative Review 2017)

There is more to be said and I will deal in subsequent posts with additional aspects of the Review report and its implications.

 

Related Post

When Will The Public See The JCF Administrative Review Report, Commissioner Quallo?


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When Will The Public See The JCF Administrative Review Report, Commissioner Quallo?

Last Friday, July 28, 2017, the High Command of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) released the following statement indicating that it has completed an Administrative Review into the May 2010 operation in Western Kingston.JCF release re admin reviews - 28-7-17 aJCF release re admin reviews - 28-7-17 b

Jul.28l.17 – High Command responds to Editorial

The release referred to a Gleaner editorial (actually published on July 24, 2017), which questioned the lack of a public update regarding the JCF’s promised actions in response to the recommendations of the Western Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

The Commission’s report was tabled in Parliament on June 15, 2016, and two weeks later, on June 30, 2016, the JCF issued a press release giving its response to the recommendations made in the Commission’s report. It indicated its position regarding a number of the recommendations –  15.17, 15.18, 15.20, 15.21, 15.22, 15.27, 15.28, 15.30, 15.31 – 15.33, 15.34, 15.35 – saying what actions it intended to take in response.  I do wonder why it took 8 months more (according to last Friday’s press release) for the promised review to begin.

I hope that Commissioner Quallo will make the report public sooner rather than later; it is reportedly now being “shared with the various oversight bodies for the JCF.” Until then, the public will not be able to assess the scope and adequacy of the review or its recommendations. This public accounting is an essential part of the post-Enquiry process.

Twitter Thread

Below is a series of tweets that I made on June 30, 2017, highlighting some issues that ought to be dealt with in the JCF review report.

SG tweet 30-6-17 1SG tweet 30-6-17 2SG tweet 30-6-17 3SG tweet 30-6-17 4SG tweet 30-6-17 5SG tweet 30-6-17 6SG tweet 30-6-17 7SG tweet 30-6-17 8SG tweet 30-6-17 9SG tweet 30-6-17 10SG tweet 30-6-17 11SG tweet 30-6-17 12SG tweet 30-6-17 13SG tweet 30-6-17 14SG tweet 30-6-17 15SG tweet 30-6-17 16SG tweet 30-6-17 17

Related Blog Posts

 

 

 


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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.

 

 

 


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A Schoolgirl Gets Shot In a Taxi…By the Police…?

It has been another violence-filled week in Jamaica. And included in the violence was the shooting up of an illegal taxi by the police, according to witnesses including the driver, which resulted in a schoolgirl who was a passenger being shot and injured. This happened on Thursday morning, when the taxi was transporting a number of students on their way to school.

That afternoon, a young man selling at a traffic light approached my car and, making a gesture of winding down the window, signaled that he wanted to talk to me. I put the window down and he asked if I was the lady he sometimes saw on TV talking about INDECOM (the Independent Commission of Investigation). When I replied yes, he began what I can only call a pouring out of his heart.

It was about the shooting of the Alpha schoolgirl. He was angry and in pain. He asked if people pickni can be shot just so and nothing come of it. He said that police can’t just shoot up a taxi because they have something with the driver, and they don’t even know who is in the taxi. It cudda him madda eena di taxi an im neva know. How im would ah feel den? Eeeh? Dem nuh care.

He went on to talk about the police harassing the taxi drivers, who he said were not stealing. They were trying to make a living, to send their children to school. Like him, he said. Mi out yah ah sell fi support my family. Ah di same ting dem ah do.

He asked if I had heard what was happening downtown, and spoke about the protests, with road blocks and fires being set in some places. I said I had heard about it before I left home. He said people were doing it because they heard that the schoolgirl had died. I said that I had heard that was what had sparked the protests but on the radio they had reported that she was still alive. No, he said, from two o’clock wi hear seh she dead. (She is actually still battling for life in hospital.)

INDECOM tweets 30-6-16 aI told him that INDECOM said they were already investigating the case and that they would be giving an update as soon as they got more information.

The light changed & the line of traffic moved forward, and the young man walked beside the car and continued to talk when I stopped again. He told me that he had recently been backed up by a policeman, right out here, he said. Him seh him goin shoot mi. Mi ask him if him tink him cyan shoot mi an nuttn  goin’ happen. Dem tink is di whole ah Jamaica nuh know nuttn.

As the traffic light changed again, he said he heard the policeman had been taken in. Dem mus charge him, he said. And the last words I heard as I drove away were – But dem shuddn even try him. Dem should jus do him what him do di likkle girl.

Layers upon layers of violence. Which is why the investigations and the formal justice and accountability systems must work and must be seen to be working.

Responses to the Shooting

INDECOM issued this press release yesterday:

INDECOM Release 30-6-16INDECOM PROBING SHOOTING INJURY OF 15-Y-O ALPHA STUDENT

June 30, 2016 – The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has launched an investigation into the shooting injury of a 15 year old female student of the Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha). The incident occurred at the intersection of North Street and Mark Lane at approximately 7:15 a.m.

The student underwent emergency surgery at the Kingston Public Hospital and is now recovering in the Intensive Care Unit.

The report received by INDECOM is that a man operating a “robot” taxi transporting students of Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) was allegedly stopped by police. It is also being alleged that after the taxi had stopped, the police opened fire at the vehicle hitting the student.

A team of investigators and forensic examiners responded to the incident following the report. The incident scene was processed; the motor car in question was also processed; investigators collected statements from witnesses to the incident.

The Commission is asking anyone who may have witnessed or can provide any information about the incident to call or visit its office in Kingston at 1.876.968.1932, or call our mobile number at 1.876.878.0167. Persons are also encouraged to call our new Toll Free Lines: 1.888.991.5555 or 1.888.935.5550.

NB: In the Commission’s 4th Quarterly Report for 2015, the issue of shooting at vehicles was discussed extensively. We invite members of the media and the public to peruse the document with a view to understanding the policies and legal issues related to incidents of this nature. Visit our website: http://www.indecom.gov.jm (Click on Reports then “The 4th INDECOM Quarterly Report”)

 

COP Carl WilliamsDuring a discussion on Nationwide News Network yesterday, Commissioner of Police Carl Williams made the following comments while responding to several questions from hosts Cliff Hughes and Dennis Brooks:

No police officer came forward to report that incident, and so we are going based on the allegations that have been made. We have started investigations already, to identify the…if police officers were involved and, if police officers were actually involved, we will identify them, not some time from now but very soon. And they will be subject to the fullest consequences.

We still have ballistic evidence that we can pursue and so we also can narrow down to police officers who were supposed to have been in the area at the time.

 

We heard that it was an unmarked police vehicle…an unmarked vehicle…

…if it were a police vehicle, no shots should have been fired. Unless a police officer is, unless his life is threatened or unless the life of someone from the community, a citizen, is threatened, the police are not authorized to fire their weapons. We have gotten to the point where it is not even okay for the police to fire their weapon when justified; it is okay to fire when justified and when it is necessary for the police to fire. Because there are instances in which there might be justification but it might not be necessary. And so it must be necessary and it must be justified before the police can fire their weapons. That is how we have been able to manage in the last two or so years. And that is how we have been able to reduce the number of fatal contacts between the police and citizens. And so if it were a police officer’s …if it were police officers in this situation, then certainly that would have been inconsistent with the policy and the direction that the JCF is taking at this time.

(Transcribed from recording of Nationwide News Network interview with COP Carl Williams by Cliff Hughes & Dennis Brooks, 30-6-16)

 

The 2015 4th Quarterly Report mentioned in INDECOM’s press release is worth looking at both for its information about the issue of firing on vehicles and for the picture it gives of the reporting INDECOM does about its cases, investigations and work.

INDECOM 4th Quarterly report 2015 full

I hope that the child who was injured recovers fully. I hope that those who shot her are found. There is much urgent work that needs to be done, as we keep finding ourselves at the point of having to express similar hopes over and over again.

 


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Resumption of the Death Penalty?

Calls for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica are made periodically, often at a time when there is an increase in the number of murders or in a period when there have been particularly vicious or high profile murders. People are understandably angry, afraid and frustrated and want to see something done to curb violent crimes and  punish those who commit murder. The death penalty seems like an uncomplicated action to call for, a finite action with seeming immediacy to it. And so the call: reintroduce the death penalty; start hanging again.

JIS Robert MontagueThe call  has over time been made by people in various spheres across the society and the latest call has come from Minister of National Security Robert Montague, in a speech at a Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Passing Out Parade and Awards Ceremony  at the National Police College of Jamaica, at Twickenham Park, on  April 29. (Click here for JIS release: Govt. to Wage Relentless War against Criminals)

 

Mr. Montague said the Ministry’s overall approach to creating safer communities is based on five key pillars –  crime prevention through social development; situational prevention; effective policing; swift and sure justice processes; and reducing re-offending. (JIS – April 30, 2016)

It was while speaking about justice processes that Minister Montague made his comments about the resumption of hanging:

These first two pillars will be further buffeted (sic) by having an effective system in place that increases the risk to criminals of getting caught, to bringing more of them to justice and delivering sure, swift yet just punishment. It cannot be that persons feel comfortable to exact criminality but do not expect to be severely punished. Persons who intend to break the law must know that the punishment will be sure, swift and just. In that regard I have asked the Minister of State, Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr to consult with a number of agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica.

Minister Montague

(Click for transcript of Excerpt from Speech by Minister of Security Robert Montague – April 29, 2016 dealing with the five key pillars mentioned above.)

Last week, when I first heard an audio clip from the Minister’s speech during a newscast, his phrase “sure, swift and just” struck me. This is certainly something that is needed as part of the strategy to deal with violent crime.

Sure: What is the likelihood that someone who commits murder in Jamaica will be apprehended, tried and convicted for their crime?

The JCF’s Corporate Plan for 2015-2018 states that for the period 2009- 2014, “The combination of improved investigative capabilities and the application of technology have paid rich dividends, which resulted in a 41 percent cleared-up rate for murder; 72 percent for aggravated assault; 41 percent for shooting and just below 50 percent for rape.” In a 2013 article in the Jamaica Observer, then DCP in charge of crime (now Commissioner of Police) Carl Williams explained the meaning of “cleared-up” in the Jamaican policing context:

Commissioner-of-Police-Carl-McKay-Williams“Clear-up rate of murders are a little below 50 per cent right now, but my mission is to ensure that we get it above 50 per cent for murders, so we may ensure that a person is less likely to get away with murder than to be out there walking free to commit other murders,” Williams said.

Noting that the clear-up of crimes is the clearest measure of effectiveness of investigators or detectives, Williams — in clarifying what is meant by the term — noted that in some countries a crime is cleared up when the police identify the suspect. However, this is different for Jamaica as Williams explained that clearing-up of a crime not only occurs when the suspect is identified but when he/she is arrested and charged following a process of investigation.

“A crime may also be cleared up if the person responsible for the crime is unavailable for arrest and prosecution by virtue of the fact that he is dead or in custody in another jurisdiction,” Williams further explained. (Jamaica Observer – Dec 4, 2013)

According to the JCF, the cleared-up rate for 2015 was 55%, which indicates an improvement in their figures, but still means there is a great likelihood that someone who commits murder will not even face prosecution for the crime.

There is an even more remote likelihood that a person who commits murder will be convicted, as the conviction rate for murder in Jamaica is cited as 5%.

So we do not have a sure system. If there is a 95% chance that you will never be convicted, it doesn’t much matter whether the sentence is hanging or life imprisonment. In fact, what has been shown to have the greatest deterrent effect is the likelihood of being apprehended and convicted for the crime, not whether the punishment will be the death penalty.

Swift: How quickly is a person who has been charged with murder likely to be tried?

Long delays are the norm in our justice system and this has been so for decades. A March 31, 2016 Gleaner article contained this information:

paulaLlewellynThere were 522 cases on the court list at the start of the Hilary term in January, and, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, 127 of them are five years or older – all murder cases.

Llewellyn, who was speaking at the start of the Easter term yesterday, said 96 of these cases are down for trial during this term and that her office is ready to proceed with 51….

According to Llewellyn, 526 cases are on the Circuit Court list for this Easter term. That number includes the 504 cases that were rolled over from the previous term, 328 of which were for murder. (Daily Gleaner – March 31, 2016) 

There have been cases which have not come to trial until 7, 8, 9 or 10 years after the murder was committed. In recent discussions about the perennial delays in the justice system, many causes were given, as they have been in the past. There is a great deal of work to be done to make our systems deliver justice swiftly, or even in a timely manner, as envisaged by the Mission Statement of Jamaica’s Courts.

Just: How do you guarantee a just outcome in a flawed and corrupt system?

Beyond the fundamental issue of whether the death penalty can be classified as a  just punishment, lies the question of the dangers posed to justice by a flawed and corrupt system. On page 26 of the 2008 JCF Strategic Review Report, a number of corrupt practices said to be endemic in the police force are listed, some of them having the potential to impact directly on the outcome of an investigation, prosecution and conviction.

Strategic review of JCF pg 26 with border

There have been instances in which physical violence and threats have been used to obtain confessions; statements have been forged by policemen to support a case; evidence has disappeared (eaten by rats or burned up in mysterious fires); files have gone missing; etc.

Long delays have also given rise to the death, migration or other unavailability of witnesses,  or the fading of memories with time. Issues of inadequate legal representation or access to resources to support a case also have the potential to impact a just outcome. Cases in other jurisdictions have seen DNA evidence exonerating people who have been serving long sentences for crimes they were wrongly convicted of. Do we believe that our justice system is free of such cases?

All these problems also affect cases which carry sentences other than capital punishment, and can result in unjust outcomes too. But where the sentence is death, should the State take the risk of executing a person for a crime they did not commit?

Opposition Spokesperson Responds

Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance, Senator Mark Golding gave a useful response the next day, in a press release which included the following:

The Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance stated – “I do not regard Minister Montague’s announcement that the Government is seeking ‘to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica’ as a serious policy initiative that will be implemented. The Government can’t hang more people; nor, as a practical matter, can Parliament.  Only the Courts can make that happen, and the Courts are governed by the rule of law and, in particular, the human rights guarantees in our Constitution.

mark goldingIt should also be borne in mind that the reactivation of the death penalty, after a de facto moratorium over the 28 years since 1988, will bring condemnation on Jamaica, and possibly even adverse action, by those of our most important international development partners that are most hostile to the death penalty (e.g. the European Union and Canada), and trigger strongly adverse criticism from the international human rights community.  The Government must decide if it wants to inflict that on Jamaica at this time, and we as a society must also be very clear that we are doing the correct thing and for the correct reasons. 

Full release: Opposition responds to Minister Montague’s comments on the Death Penalty 30-4-16

There is a great deal to be done to prevent and deal with violent crime in Jamaica. Both Minister Montague and Senator Golding refer to some of these other measures. People may think that in calling for the resumption of the death penalty, they are calling for something straightforward and effective, that can be implemented quickly, with immediate results on the murder rate. This is not so. And part of my concern whenever this call comes up is that it diverts attention and energy from the measures which will in fact have a real impact. A sure, swift and just system will impact the levels of crime, without the resumption of the death penalty, which I do not support for a number of reasons.