KINGSTON — Despite a public outcry over a spate of police fatalities, there have been fewer shooting deaths by officers in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same periods in the last two years, according to figures released by police commanders.
In a recent press conference at his office in Kingston, Commissioner Owen Ellington said that there have been 56 fatal shootings by police for the first three months of 2012, compared to 63 during the first three months of last year and 84 in the first quarter of 2010.
Ellington’s comments came as the department is grappling with increasing citizen outrage in some quarters and media coverage of controversial police shootings. Two weeks ago, a band of protesters gathered outside the security ministry in a rare street demonstration to demand an end to police violence.
London-based rights group Amnesty International recently said police fatalities are high in Jamaica because officers “continue to enter marginalized inner-city communities as if everyone there were a criminal suspect.”
Many questions remain unanswered regarding some of the most recent fatalities, including the killing of a 45-year-old mother of two as she returned from a child’s wake in her Cassava Piece slum and the death of a 13-year-old girl and two elderly men from volatile Denham Town.
Police say they were killed during shootouts between officers and gunmen but residents insist constables were shooting wildly and there were no gunmen in the area.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force has long been criticized by human rights groups as an unaccountable and trigger-happy force, especially in poor slums where residents have a deep distrust of police. There were 211 reported police killings last year, 69 fewer than the official tally of 2010.
Police say they are threatened by the enormous amount of illegal guns on the streets and brazen suspects.
Ellington said that clearly communicated policies on the reasonable use of lethal force by officers, more training on how to
de-escalate violent situations and the distribution of more non-lethal weapons will help reduce the number of police fatalities. He said some 6,000 officers will be equipped with pepper spray, batons and other weaponry.
“So deadly force will not be as high as in the past,” he told reporters.
The police force has also moved away from routinely using M-16 assault rifles and carbines in street-level policing, replacing them with MP-5 submachine guns and Glock pistols.
Ellington said he is pushing for 1,000 more bulletproof vests, CCTV cameras and observation posts in crime hotspots and “shot spotter” technology that records gunfire, pinpoints its origin and automatically notifies police.
Photo: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
Slum raid: A woman sits with her daughter as soldiers stand guard during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in Kingston, Thursday, May 27, 2010. After a raid in this slum that left nearly 50 people dead in four days of gunbattles, the reputed drug kingpin who was the target may have fled the country, the government said.