All too often we hear the term Police shoot-out, in Jamaica this takes on particular resonance because of the high instances of violent confrontation between police and members of the public which results in civilian death.Over the years there has been much said about this phenomenon both locally and internationally. Various Agencies and Organizations have done their own studies and made analysis most of which are slanted sensationalist opinions which has very little basis in facts or are at best poorly arrived at one sided conclusions. A quick Google search (police in Jamaica) bears this out.
When we hear the term shoot-out what leaps to mind is an image of a classic depiction of police and criminal both armed and a shoot-out occurs , lets see who survives. In fact that misconception is so ingrained in our psyche that it forms the basis for serious critique and legislation in Jamaica which are having serious consequences on how law enforcement officers carry out their functions and how they are judged when they do. The classic wild-west mental misconception of what qualifies as a shoot-out continues to inform the debate surrounding police use of force in the country.
Needless to say policy papers have been written, new Agencies formed which have oversight of police actions and assumptions are continuously made about police shoot-outs without an in-depth look at how we arrive at those shooting statistics. For one, no one bothers to ask law enforcement officers about their experiences in these matters. Despite supposed changes in the educational requirements particularly for the gazetted ranks they are still treated as night-watchmen. Because of these inequities in the way this issue is perceived and the inaccuracies in the public sphere, I have consistently sought to shine a light on the facts in the interest of fairness.
Out of that debate was born Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), The office of Public Defender and others. Consensus being, that drastic police oversight is needed to curtail alleged police excesses. No one can reasonably say that police in Jamaica has acted professionally or have not engaged in actions that are grossly antithetical to what are expected of police officers. As such even when officers are killed defending the very lives of citizens the conversation centers on beyond the pale alleged actions of police. Of course many who speak the loudest are motivated not by the need to see a professional agency rooting out crime but are influenced by deep seated hatred for cops because of criminal connections or worse, or may have had criminal kit and kin taken out by police.
Many statements have been made regarding the issue of police use of force, many are correct, many are ill-informed outrageous allegations which has no basis in facts, or are otherwise colored by nefarious interest. No comment was as outrageous as the one made by Carolyn Gomes , the pediatric doctor who heads (JFJ) and Earl Witter a Lawyer, who heads the tax-payer funded Public defenders office, that not enough police officers are getting killed commensurate with the amount of civilians killed by police. I continue to be outraged by this statement, not because of what it sounds like they are saying , (“that more cops should get killed“), but by their absolute ignorance of what constitutes a shoot-out in a police sense. I am forced to continue a crusade against this ill-informed mentality which is resulting in serious harm and death to Jamaican cops . I have heard all kinds of explanation of what Gomes and Witter could have meant or may have meant. One person had this to say.
I really think this “not enough police officers are being killed” statement by the JFJ president was most unfortunate, if only that she should have known better that those who misconstrue the real gist of the statement had the power to make their opinions fly.
The editorial as posted was a perfect example of someone understanding, but pretending not to understand.
The fact is, each shooting by the police should represent an instant where there was a life and death struggle, between law enforcement and violent, armed criminals. This, it should be noted, must NOT be confused with law enforcement coming into CONTACT with armed criminals. All police shootings are originated from contact with some element of the citizenry, whether it be violent, armed criminals, domestic abusers, vehicle traffic violaters, scam/fraudists, etc. HOW MANY OF THESE CONTACTS, even with the armed criminals, actually saw a LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE which resulted in victory and life for the police, and defeat and death for the criminal?
How many? This is where those who support the Police’s morally diseased policy of “if yu have a gun, yu gwine dead” take a stand against Dr. Gomez and her statement. The editorial noted that around fifty police officers have been killed since 2002 ( I personally lodge a caveat that it is more). The police have killed well over 2000 people since that time. Well, since it is around fifty police dead, and each shooting should basically represent a violent, life and death struggle between police and violent, armed and firing criminals, how MORE policemen have not been killed? In police shootings where multiple persons- as much as SEVEN AND EIGHT – have been killed, NOT ONE police officer has ever been killed. How come? The real irony of this is how we have made ourselves conveniently ignorant of the truth. The truth is, the police use AMBUSH TACTICS in MOST contact circumstances to surprise, render helpless, and EXECUTE these purportedly “armed and violent” criminals. There are 2 principles we overlook, in order to further overlook the predominantly lie we hear in police shooting reports:
1) The BEST WAY to face people with firearms on a REPEATED AND REGULAR basis AND COME BACK ALIVE is to AMBUSH, RENDER HELPLESS AND EXECUTE them.
2) How do police in Jamaica typically die? They’re AMBUSHED. When you’re ambushed, you are made significantly helpless by virtue that time is seriously against your effort(s) to react to the threat. Those capitalizing without mercy on your demise – DESPITE YOUR DEMISE – would have basically executed you. That’s how police and criminals die in Jamaica. They typically ambush each other.
Sure, we know about the supposed superiority that police possess through training, but that training should have made them aware that the typical gunfight between armed parties last only 2.5 seconds, the average distance between combatants starts at around eight-to ten feet apart, and end between 15 to 25 feet apart, and ALL COMBATANTS WILL GET HIT. The police know that a gunfight doesn’t go like in the movies, but they figure that YOU don’t have to know. They figure you can keep on watching TV, so they’ll catch you on the 7 ‘O-Clock News. That is WHY Dr. Gomez asked the question that if police and criminals were fighting each other fair and square, how come more police ain’t dead? A smart Jamaican would not be looking JUST at the disparity in numbers between police and criminal dead, per se. They would have easily deduced that the police force is an armed, legitimate group, who simply ambush their targets more than their targets ambush them. No MATTER wh
o is the bigger force, if you come to fair gunfight, a LOT OF PEOPLE from BOTH SIDES are going to die. Again, Dr. Gomez knows this, but she has some hope still that not all policemen are stupid enough to think that ALL Jamaicans are stupid. The first rule of the gunfighter is that you must NEVER GO TO A FAIR FIGHT.
I thank my friend, I did not name you as the person who wrote this impassioned assessment because I did not obtain your permission to do so. I wish to thank you for your synopsis which forms the heart of my argument. This assessment is well put together, it seem to make perfect sense, in fact to someone not in the know, it would be difficult to argue with what’s in it. Like math however, one may multiply 10 x 10 and arrive at 100, to a casual observer there is nothing to argue about 10 x 10 =100. If the methodology used in arriving at the numbers 10 was however incorrect, fraudulent, deceptive or otherwise unscrupulous then the 100 total is wrong despite it’s appearance.
Once we divorce ourselves of the ill-conceived notion of what characterizes a shoot-out, we allow ourselves to be more informed on the subject which should impact our perceptions. As I said before what leaps to mind when we hear shoot-outs involving police has no relationship to Hollywood’s western-movie dramatization. Laws giving police the right to use lethal force are generally the same in the western Industrialized world. Officers may use deadly force In defense of the their own lives or that of another. These laws are designed by countries serious about law enforcement and copied by countries like Jamaica with an understanding of the complexities surrounding the need for officer safety.
Those complexities includes, though not confined to the fact that an officer may use lethal force to neutralize a subject whom he believes is about to cause him serious harm or worse. Even though in the end the subject was unarmed. What matters is the fear in the officer’s mind at the time he used said force. Now that use of force cannot be just that the officer is fearful, the fear must be immediate and be caused by something , ie a subject pulling something from his waist-band when ordered to show his hand. An officer has no duty to await getting shot, before using deadly force under such circumstances as is believed by many in the Jamaican community.
That right of self defense is not just extended to law enforcement in Jamaica, every citizen may use deadly force to defend him/herself in like manner. If someone approaches another member of the public even in the streets with his hand undershirt , giving the impression he has a weapon, threatens that person and attempts to rob him , that person has the right to use lethal force to repel that assault, even though it is later determined that the person was not armed with a weapon, the belief in that person’s mind that he/she was in imminent danger is enough.
Jamaican criminals are exceptionally violent, Police department like the (NYPD ) the (RCMP) and British law enforcement are painfully aware of this . NYPD officers revised the way they treated Jamaican criminals when one of their own was murdered while he sat in his patrol car in Queens. Over the last three decades literally every front-line Jamaican cop has been shot, some on several different occasions. Many have been killed, Even more have survived being shot-at a multiplicity of times. I am no stranger to this, I have been shot at many times , and was shot once. These instances of life and death occurrences are not abstract numbers on a spread sheet to be debated. They are actual instances of serious injury and death to actual people who went out to do the job they are asked to do. As such this issue cannot be left to lobby groups and people with agendas to decide.
Police departments and other security agencies are faced with the unpleasant , un-enviable task of having to deal with taking the life of someone they thought was armed , only to discover the person wasn’t , or the perceived threat was not real. Yet even as they do, they have to go back to work and take the same actions the next day because they simply cannot wait to find out whether the guy groping in his waist-band intend to kill him. Just recently Capital police in Washington DC used what they called justifiable lethal force to stop a woman in a speeding car near the White House and later the Capitol building. In the end it turned out the woman was not armed , and was probably suffering from a mental condition. Whether we believe the level of force applied was inconsistent with the threat posed by her, is immaterial , we simply do not know what officers tasked with protecting those institutions were thinking at the time, taking into considering the world we now live in.
The night I was shot I was not part of any overwhelming force laying in wait to ambush anyone, as per my friend ill-informed analysis. I was a young officer accompanying a man home, he was terrified that he was about to lose his life to a young punk who wanted to kill him. In actuality we were ambushed and shot. When we read something in a book or online, it does not qualify us to make qualitative judgement on an issue , it gives us a cursory idea how things possibly work not make us an authority. Even when we are trained in a particular discipline we don’t always know everything we need to know. Imagine when we have no formal training, yet we seek to make allegations and opinions facts. This brings us back to Carolyn Gomes and the (JFJ). How could Gomes competently argue about what constitutes justifiable homicide when she has no training in policing, neither is she a lawyer. Does having a medical doctorate qualifies her to speak with authority on every subject? The answer is absolutely not , as such her statement was incendiary and malicious. It is costing officers their lives.
Asking a doctor how to put out a fire would be ludicrous. Asking a doctor how policing is done and what constitutes justifiable homicide is equally as ludicrous. Here is an example.http://chatt-a-box.com/mywpblog/?p=144. Presidents , Prime Ministers and heads of Corporations bring in experts to advise them on what to do before they make decisions. Gomes should consider being more judicious and restrained before she opens her mouth to make unsubstantiated allegations. So too are people who speak without the appropriate information. However, every instance of Extra judicial killing by law enforcement must be condemned. If we remain silent we are all at risk.