Ja­maica Po­lice Killings Drop Sharply in 2014

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

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.

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