Jamaica Police Killings Drop Sharply in 2014
By David Gagne
Jamaica is on track to report just over 100 killings by police officers last year, drastically lower than the 258 reported fatal shootings by security forces in 2013 - a reduction that could be partly attributable to the work of an anti-impunity commission set up in 2010.
The difference between the two years was particularly notable in October 2014 when the commission reported just five civilans killed by security forces, compared to 40 civilians killed during the same month in 2013. This is also the first year since 2004 that police have killed less than 200 civilians, according to the Associated Press.
The AP cited the Independent Commission of Investigations, which was created in 2010 following the killing of 70 civilians in a police raid, as a significant factor in lowering the number of police killings.
In 2013 the commission was given the power to arrest and prosecute law enforcement officials - something that could previously only be done by an internal police division or public prosecutors.
Two police officers were convicted earlier last year after failing to cooperate with the commission, and 11 police from a single unit are currently under investigation for murder.
“A clear message is being sent that all police killings are being rigorously investigated,” a representative of the human rights watchdog group Amnesty International told the AP.
The reduction in police killings could also be linked to the scaling back of early morning police raids in slums, which frequently resulted in civilian casualties, according to Hamish Campbell, the deputy commissioner of the investigative commission.
The 2014 drop in Jamaica police killings indicates that independent investigations and monitoring can be effective in reducing excessive use of force by law enforcement - an essential precursor to garnering the trust in police that is necessary for them to do their job properly.
With a murder rate of 44.2 per 100,000 residents, Jamaica is ranked among the most violent countries in the world. By reducing the use of lethal force, and thus increasing respect for their work at a community level, police could begin having a real impact on citizen security. According to one slum-dwelling Kingston resident, this is already beginning to happen: “Police always used to come with guns cocked, but more of them are calmer now and have a better attitude,” she told the AP.
Other countries in the region could potentially take a lesson from Jamaica’s experience with the investigative commission. For example, law enforcement officials in Brazil have reportedly killed over 11,000 civilians in the past five years, amid a police culture in which extreme force and extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals are considered acceptable behavior.