The latest of these was on Tuesday 22nd January, 2013, when Winston “Calli” Browne was shot and killed by a police detective, in the Parish of St. Peters. Police officers were called in to resolve a domestic dispute between Browne and his wife, whom he had forcibly removed from a vehicle earlier in the day, while on her way to work. Browne was said to have stabbed and was continuing in his actions to bring harm to the officer in question. In defense of his life the detective shot Browne, killing him.
Since then however, the subject of the use of deadly force against citizens by the police has been a topic of debate. On Thursday 14th February, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. CG Walwyn outlined what measures ought to be taken by his officers.
Mr. Walwyn was emphatic that there are rules of engagement when it comes to law enforcement. “The rules say you must not use deadly force unless you can justify it. It has to be justified and there are rules within the book that you have to go by.”
But the Commissioner also cautioned that the public must be aware that the police officers are out there protecting them and when persons within the general public choose to attack police officers, police officers are not going to standby and get injured. “And if during the rules of engagement or the terms of engagement it rises to such level to defend one’s life then all energies must be used to defend one’s life,” said Mr. Walwyn.
“I have heard in the streets that police officers should be shooting people in the leg and in the arm. We do not train to shoot people in the leg or in the arm. I have looked carefully at the policy here and nothing in there says to shoot a person in the leg or in the arm,” continued the Commissioner.
The head of the police force also revealed that when he took office, he became aware of a warning against police officers, because there was a practice of firing warning shots. He said however that this is against policy for two reasons. “One, you should never fire warning shots. A police officer should never fire a warning shot. If there is cause to discharge a firearm, it must be in the defense of life, which is one’s life, or the life of another.”
“Discharging a warning shot can have serious consequences. What goes up must come down. And those bullets can come down and kill somebody else.”
He said that we have seen this happen in the United States, around the celebration of the American independence on the 4th of July and in other countries where it is a practice to shoot firearms to celebrate, “we have seen people get killed from shots that were fired in the air.”
“So it’s against the policy here in the Federation. I didn’t create it; it’s been there from day one. And it is something that we have been trying to get our officers not to do. Another thing about shooting people in the arm or in the leg…this is my belief, that if you are going to shoot a person in the arm or in the leg you should not pull the trigger, because they are no longer a threat to you. If you shoot them in the arm or the leg you should find other means to subdue this person. There is no need to discharge the firearm. When a firearm is discharged it should be discharged for maximum effect. What that means, if you have an aggressor, that is actively seeking to end your life or the life of another person and you can justifiably explain the need to use deadly force then I would say, based on the regulations, you would be justified in doing so. But if you cannot justify it, you should not,” opined the Commissioner.
The Commissioner also pointed out that he does not support “shooting a man for property, I don’t believe in that. It has to be in the defense of your life or the life of someone else.”
Mr. Walwyn also outlined some of the measures being taken to enhance the skills and techniques of his officers.
He said they recently were the recipients of new equipment called the FATS system…Firearms Training Simulator. It is a $36,000 piece of equipment that was donated to the police. As part of the training officers were put through ‘real life’ computerized scenarios that gave them the chance to make decisions when to shoot and when not to shoot. He added that already over 200 officers have been put through training because what the Police High Command was noticing is that a lot of officers were discharging weapons with people running away and firing warning shots “and that is something we do not condone.”
But there have been other efforts at training, as explained by the Commissioner. He said about six weeks ago the High Command hosted a lecture, where the rank and file were told that such practices (firing warning shots) is not acceptable. Mr. Walwyn also stated that they reviewed the current policy with the officers and provided them with copies.
They have also developed a new firearms policy which would be a lot stronger than the current one and this too will be presented to the Anti-crime Unit for review and consideration before going forward. But things are being done to make sure that when we do become involved in the exchange of fire then the officers are justified in doing what they are doing, stated Walwyn.
Walwyn was firm in his caution though, when he stated, “I don’t want the public to misinterpret what I am saying. If anyone attacks a police officer with a knife or a gun the police officer will respond. That person is making an active decision to hurt or take the life of a police officer; that is their decision, the police will respond to protect themselves to save their own lives.”