INDECOM raps cops for ‘illegal searches’

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has expressed concern about the abuse of their powers by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) during stop and search of vehicles on the roads and searches of private premises.

In its first quarterly report for 2021, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, INDECOM said it has launched an investigation into complaints surrounding entry and search of properties, and the deployment of stop and search powers by the police based on formal and informal complaints received in recent years.

“Recorded complaints pertaining to alleged illegal entry and search increased slightly between 2019 and 2020, whilst there was a reduction in complaints regarding stop and search over the same period,” said INDECOM.

“The commission acknowledges, at the commencement of this report, the extremely difficult task the Jamaican police force [is] confronted with. The police are frequently challenged in their legitimate duties and faced with many instances of non-compliance; resistance and confrontation often occurs,” said INDECOM

“However, the JCF is a disciplined and trained body of men and women, who are required to operate both within the rule of law and their own operational policy framework.

“The circumstances giving rise to the nature of the complaints received appear, frequently, unnecessary, and much could have been resolved with compliance, explanation, and civility,” added INDECOM.

The agency said it also conducted a survey this year which highlights a trend of reported unprofessionalism by members of the JCF in their interactions with members of the public during search operations.

“This is particularly exhibited by alleged utterances and actions during their interaction with the public, and failure to explain and account correctly,” INDECOM reported.

“The pattern of complaints, from different, unconnected citizens across the country, has a similarity of context and manifest common features which are difficult to construe that all have been concocted. Such behaviour is now more frequently observed with the ever increasing circulation on social media platforms of mobile phone interactions between police and citizens,” added INDECOM.

The investigative body said its survey results, while limited, revealed that many Jamaicans are of the mistaken belief that the police can stop and search a person without a reason.

“Some complaint reports indicate that officers are still conducting stop and search actions that are not permissible,” said INDECOM, as it pointed to the 2013 ruling by Justice David Batts which underscored that members of the security forces have no power to arbitrarily stop and search a motor vehicle and that the police need “reasonable grounds to suspect” before embarking on a search or an arrest.

“The current breaches alleged against some police officers regarding illegal ‘entry and search’ and ‘stop and search’ can be remedied through retraining initiatives. Those in command (supervisors) must be held to account for any positive or negative conduct of officers under their command,” said INDECOM.

The agency also reiterated its call for the introduction and increased use of body cameras by the police.

“[This] will not only help to hold the wearers accountable when they are in breach, but also vindicate an officer from a false report. Similarly, videos captured may be used as ‘lessons for learning’ and training and development for officers in certain instances,” declared INDECOM.

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