Coral Spring, Trelawny — Opposition spokesman on national security Senator Peter Bunting has condemned reports that members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were seen beating civilians on two separate occasions, blaming the incidents on the militarisation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
Two videos recently emerged online showing soldiers beating residents in Denham Town during altercations. In one video, a soldier is observed beating a man with his rifle while the other video showed a soldier kicking a woman, said to be pregnant.
“In recent days we have had a number of incidents involving soldiers and citizens that, on the face of it, appear to show soldiers responding unprofessionally and with excessive force to unarmed women,” Senator Bunting argued.
He added: “There is no excuse for that behaviour. However, I think those who placed them in that situation must also bear some of the responsibility.”
He was addressing the Caribbean Federation of Police Welfare Associations 10th Annual General Meeting held at the Ocean Coral Spring Hotel last Wednesday.
Chairman of the Police Officers’ Association (POA) Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Wayne Cameron said the “militarisation of the police force” is a matter that the POA has been watching.
“…I also want to bring to your attention another matter that was raised by Senator Bunting about the militarisation of the police force. I wish to inform you that this is a matter that this Police Officers’ Association has raised with the Police Service Commission as recent as last year in a meeting. So it is not a matter that has missed us at all. And we are paying attention to that,” SSP Cameron said.
Bunting noted that soldiers should be used to back up the police but not as a replacement.
“Soldiers are not a replacement for police personnel. Soldiers can be used to support police, especially in the clear phase of a clear, hold, and build strategy,” the former security minister said.
“…Another observation I want to make is around the militarisation of policing. We’ve seen that trend in many countries over the last couple of decades, even in the United States, particularly since 9/11 we’ve seen many towns and cities militarised policing.”
He argued that police personnel, equipped with less lethal weapons should be at the front line.
“During my time as a minister, with the help of our international partners, we supplied thousands of less lethal kits and training for those officers who receive them. And these should be the personnel on the front lines in the communities. Give the resources to the police to do the job,” the former security minister stated.
“Soldiers can support police but should not lead in prolonged community-type policing. Police personnel are more suitably trained, and should be equipped with less lethal options, pepper spray and batons than just M-16 rifles.”
He also advocated for equity in the payment of benefits to the dependents of police officers, whether they die on or off the job.
“I don’t know if this is still the case but something I was working on towards the end of my term. There was a distinction in the death benefit between police personnel who were in service versus on duty. And I thought that was a real injustice because a constable is never really off duty. A police officer is never off duty. They see a crime being committed at any time they could be vacationing at this very hotel they would be obliged to respond. So I thought that we should eliminate that restriction. The cost will be trivial, but it would certainly make a big difference to the families of the officer who passed on,” Bunting said.
SSP Cameron agreed with Bunting on the issue.
“The comments made by Senator Bunting in respect of police officers dying in service as against dying tragically, that’s another matter we currently have in our grief proposal. And what we have asked for is, whether the officer dies on duty or dies tragically, that playing field be level and one sum of money made available to their dependents,” SSP Cameron said.
The two-day conference, held under the theme ‘Leading the change through innovation, creativity and re-engagement for the betterment of police officers across the region’ ended last Thursday.
Delegates from 10 countries attended.
Featured Image – BUNTING… there is no excuse for that behaviour (Photo: Philp Lemonte)