How reassuring is the Jamaican police force?

As Nick Davis’ feature on BBC News Online reminds us, the Jamaican Constabulary Force’s motto is “Serve, Protect and Reassure”. This claim must be pretty hard to swallow for the thousands of people living in poorer parts of the island who have found some police officers’ antics menacing at best and deadly at worst.  For many, officers are far from reassuring and recent figures show that they don’t exactly protect. Quite the opposite in fact.

Amnesty has long documented that police brutality within the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) is prevalent and has been for several years.  Today’s new report reveals that this year alone 84 people have been killed by police between January and May –  that’s an increase of 58 per cent over the same period in 2008.

But officers hardly ever face justice. The report also reveals that no police officer has been convicted since 2006 and only four officers have been convicted between 1999 and 2009, from a total of more than 1700 reports of fatal shootings.  

Don’t misunderstand me: I know the police force in Jamaica have a very difficult job to do, and with figures from 2007 showing that there were approximately 1500 homicides and 272 police killings, Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the region.

Effective policing and a strong justice system is needed more than ever there, which is why Amnesty welcomes the new initiatives proposed by the Jamaican government to overhaul the public security system in the country.

Some of the proposals are to reform the police force, to modernise the justice system and to develop a community safety and security policy to tackle some of the violence in poorer communities. That’s all good news, I think.  

The Gleaner is right to have described the report as being ‘a mixed bag’.  

We are hopeful that if these new initiatives are quickly put in place, there may be a chance of restoring the poorer Jamaicans’ faith in their policing system, so that perhaps once again Jamaicans can see their police force are striving to “serve, protect and reassure”.

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