Local security experts Robert Finzi-Smith and George Overton have praised the manner in which the police’s quick response team engaged three gunmen in a firefight in heavy midday traffic close to the intersection of Hope and Trafalgar roads on Monday.
The gun battle ensued when the police attempted to apprehend the gunmen minutes after they had reportedly confronted 48-year-old Robert Fletcher at his Traveller’s Rest Sports Bar on Old Hope Road in St Andrew, robbed him of cash and his licensed firearm before shooting him in the head, killing him.
The gunmen then tried to escape in a white Toyota Axio motor car, but with the help of the JamaicaEye closed-circuit TV network, the police tracked the motor vehicle and intercepted it just before it crossed the busy intersection onto Waterloo Road.
Police said they were forced to fire as they were engaged by the gunmen, two of whom were eventually cut down. The third, who police believe was badly injured, escaped.
But while some Jamaicans have been praising the police, others have been critical, chiding the cops for engaging the gunmen in the presence of civilians.
From as early as Monday evening some social media users created parodies and memes ridiculing a cop seen taking cover behind a red motor vehicle during the firefight.
However, Finzi-Smith yesterday voiced contempt for those criticisms, saying he was proud of the policemen involved “as a true blow was struck for the maintenance of law and order in Jamaica”.
“I look forward for the next successful encounter with criminals,” he said, then asked sarcastically if the cops should have stood in the middle of the road and trusted their bulletproof vests. “Is that what they wanted? Or they wanted people to say ‘Hold on, don’t fire yet. Let us clear the intersection and then you can start fire’.”
Finzi-Smith added that the police could have continued chasing the men to a far busier and crowded area like Half-Way-Tree square, where there could have been high numbers of casualties.
He also congratulated the police for using pistols instead of automatic rifles.
“They didn’t use weapons available to them like the fully automatic M16, because that could have really caused problems. They used their handguns and they used them effectively.
“It is also important to note how many civilian cars did not get hit to show you how controlled and sustained the gunfire was. It is not clear whether the one civilian vehicle that was damaged came from a police round or a round fired by the perpetrators.
“My advice to motorists who get caught in a situation like that is lock the door and bend down under your steering wheel, and don’t come out of the car. Once you are in the car, you are safe from rounds essentially. If you try to run out of the car or turn the car sideways, while you are manoeuvring the car, you would be in a position to get hit,” he said.
Overton, the director of operations at Guardsman Group Limited, congratulated the police and pointed out that if all three gunmen had managed to escape the police would be on the receiving end of harsher verbal lashing from social media users.
He, too, advised motorists who get trapped in their vehicles during sustained gunfire to “get as low as possible”.
“You either get out of the area where there is gunfire, if you can, and if you can’t, then get as low as you possibly can in the vehicle. The police did fairly well based on what I have seen. Information that has come out, post-incident, was that there was only one civilian vehicle that was damaged. Once you are engaged, you have to protect yourself and return fire,” Overton said.
“The policeman who took cover behind a civilian car really had nowhere else to take cover. Until you have been shot at, or until you have been involved in a gun battle, we can all speak what we want to speak, because that is an immediate action. It is a survival instinct that kicks in and you have to do what you were trained to do. The same ones who would criticise about engaging in that kind of traffic congestion are the same ones who criticise to say, ‘Look how dem mek di bwoy dem get weh’.”
Yesterday, as well, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson said the measured response of the officers was a result of a greater emphasis on training and the use of technology in the fight against crime.
He also said that the quick response team, comprising specialised motorcycle cops, will continue to be part of policing across the island.
“We’ll be doing more of it in Kingston and we are looking at Spanish Town and May Pen and other urban centres,” he said.
“From an initial review, the way the officers moved in to engage the people in the vehicle to effect an arrest, they were positioned so that they could respond in the event the gunmen opened fire. Even though the car was identified, those officers still had a responsibility to ensure that that was the vehicle carrying the gunmen, giving them the opportunity to surrender. Unfortunately, the gunmen opened fire, the police returned fire, and two gunmen were killed. One was injured and escaped and we are in the process of looking for that third man,” General Anderson said.
“A key component of modernisation is how we train our people, how we prepare people mentally to do a tough job of policing, and how we develop infrastructure. I commend all officers involved and their leadership who turned up and the police emergency control centre that coordinated the activities. They did a really good job under difficult and violent circumstances,” the commissioner said.
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