The right of Jamaicans to protest and freely express their opinions is an important guarantee of our Constitutional democracy and a demonstration of the vibrancy of our civil society. I think the outrage and anger over the recent loss of a number of innocent lives is an appropriate response and an encouraging signal that the society is growing intolerant of the sub-culture of violence that has developed over a number of decades.
This morning, I met with a delegation of protestors comprising members of civil society groups and families of victims of police fatal shootings. The Government of Jamaica is committed to reducing the level of crime and violence in Jamaica, which has taken such a terrible toll on this nation. As part of this commitment, we are going to take all necessary steps to ensure that the JCF becomes one of the most respected, trusted institutions in Jamaica.
Every police force in the world is authorized to use deadly force when it is the only way to save innocent lives. Society grants police officers this power, because police officers may have to make decisions in a fraction of a second, often in extremely stressful circumstances, when a delay could easily result in the death of the police officer, or of a hostage, or of an innocent bystander.
It is very important that the police retain the full confidence of the society that they police, which means that they must be ready to account for their actions to society. Every use of lethal force has to be investigated, explained and justified.
We will ensure that all police officers have clear operating procedures that will help to minimize the use of deadly force. The sad truth, however, is that police officers often have to face violent criminals who will try to kill them, and who will not hesitate to use innocent adults – or children – as human shields. Under such circumstances, officers may have to use lethal force in order to protect the innocent.
In the first three months of this year, 56 persons have been killed by police officers. This is the same as for the first quarter of 2011, and significantly less than in the first quarter of 2010. We agree that this figure is much too high, and must be reduced further. The loss of life is always a tragedy. It is deeply traumatic for families and communities. No one should have to experience the grief, loss and pain of losing a child.
All of us have been deeply affected by the recent death of Vanessa Kirkland, an intelligent, happy, popular 16 year old schoolgirl, with her whole life ahead of her. I have no doubt that she would have gone on to be a credit to her family, her community and this nation. The review of the JCF’s policy on the Use of Force is only one of a number of reforms that are now underway.
The police are determined to rid the force of anyone who would abuse the powers that have been entrusted to them. There are not many bad officers, but every bad officer discredits the entire police force, and the nation.
Across the whole of Jamaica, every officer is now being regularly reminded that they are always accountable, and that they are expected to show zero tolerance for any abuse of police powers. Let me also say – very clearly – that the great majority of police officers are brave and conscientious people, who sometimes have to put their lives at risk to defend the people of Jamaica. We are going to give these officers our full and undivided support.
As another part of the current program of reform, we are also going to ensure that the JCF receives better training in non-lethal options, has access to a wider range of non-lethal weapons, and that every officer understands how to respond to threats in a proportionate manner, and does not escalate to deadly force except when it is absolutely unavoidable.
These reforms are designed to ensure that the police force has the respect and trust of every community, that police officers will be able to do their duty to protect the innocent, without putting themselves at extreme risk, and at the same time will be able to relentlessly pursue the vicious criminals who have done so much harm to this nation.
This administration will be holding the Commissioner of Police, and the High Command, accountable for a reduction in the level of Police fatal shootings. To this end, the Ministry of National Security will be holding discussions with the Police Service Commission, the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, the Strategic Review Implementation Committee, and the Police Commissioner to develop an appropriate performance measure and targets in this area, similar to the broader targets that have been set for the reduction of crime and violence in the society.