Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington, says the police will be adopting several new strategies regarding the use of force, which are intended to lessen the number of fatal incidents during operations.
The development came out of a meeting this morning (April 2) with senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF), and the five representative police groups, at the Police Officers’ Club on Hope Road.
Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting, in a statement in Parliament on March 27, had charged the Police High Command to move to reduce the level of fatal shootings, and informed that the government is to undertake a review of the JCF's policy on the Use of Force.
"We all agreed that there has to be a change in the police’s attitude in respect to how we use force and a complete change in our professional conduct in respect of how we deploy deadly force,” Mr. Ellington said at a press conference this afternoon at his Old Hope Road offices.
He said that the new approach, regarding the use of force, is to be incorporated into the police’s standard operating procedures, as well as included in the firearms and tactical training for top rank officers.
“The specialist trainers …were in attendance (at the meeting)… and they assured us they have the capability to quickly incorporate the new procedures …and we will start delivering those training this year,” the Commissioner informed.
He said that under the new directive, members are being asked to exercise the same level of care for the safety of criminal suspects and civilians as they would for their own safety.
"That’s a very new and different approach to consider in the use of force because normally, people try to protect themselves first and then look out for others and we’re saying, whatever steps you consider appropriate to protect your own life, apply those measures to protect the lives of criminal suspects or innocent bystanders,” he said.
He noted further that as far as is practicable, members will be equipped with non-lethal weapons, such as pepper sprays, particularly those going on front line duty. Mr. Ellington said that this is a tactic that was already in train with some 2,000 pepper sprays deployed in the last year.
He said the idea is to first warn a suspect to drop a weapon and walk away from it. “You should be loud enough so that that person can hear and others can hear because they may be your witness at some stage that you did in fact try to de-escalate force without use of deadly force,” he said.
The Commissioner noted that while this strategy may be “very tricky” in giving criminals the advantage of shooting the officer, “we are promoting it non-the-less and in doing so, we are encouraging our members (that) whenever they are under attack, seek cover, make yourself and your position safe and then appeal to the individuals to disarm peacefully”.
He said the police would also seek to employ the ‘warning shot’ tactic and not fire directly at individuals in barricaded situations where suspects are holed up in vehicles or they are directing gunfire at the police. The Commissioner is of the view that in these situations, the armed criminal suspects will come to realize that their firepower is no match to that of the police and therefore put down their weapon and surrender peacefully.
“We are promoting the idea of containment of a scene, calling for back-up and using other discomfort methods of extracting people from whether it’s a vehicles or barricaded environment, without the firing of shots, and in all of these new tactics we are going to be ensuring that people are trained and re-trained,” he assured.
Commissioner Ellington further informed that police control will also be used to guide and remind every member of the requirements for restraint in the use of force. “Whenever our members are being dispatched to the crime scenes or incident scenes nowadays, through police control, it is now routine that a reminder is broadcast on the radio net about requirement for restraint in the use of deadly force,” he said.
In the first three months of this year, 56 persons have been killed by the police. This is the same as for the first quarter of 2011, and significantly less than in the first quarter of 2010.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter