Pulling Back on Police Powers in Jamaica?

Jamaica's take on this year's Blog Action Day dealt with the issue of extra judicial killings and police brutality – fairly common occurrences in the country, at least judging from the online community's huge response to the event.

If nothing else, the initiative sparked intelligent discussion about the topic, especially against the backdrop of the third anniversary of the invasion of Tivoli Gardens, the steep death toll of many of its residents at the hands of state security forces and the country's resulting state of emergency. But now, one of the bloggers who organised JA Blog Day (Active Voice's Annie Paul) is reporting on what the police can't do, thanks to a recent judicial ruling:

In Jamaica its so normal for the police to stop your car and search it if they want that the ruling of a judge saying there is no legal basis for such police action comes as a thunderclap. According to Barbara Gayle, writing in the Gleaner:

A Supreme Court judge has ruled that the police have no power, under the Road Traffic Act, to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles, opening the door for a flood of lawsuits.

The police have repeatedly argued that the law gives them the power to stop and search vehicles, and that this has resulted in the apprehension of criminals, the recovery of stolen vehicles and stolen farm produce.

But Justice David Batts says the police are abusing this power.

Batts made the ruling when he ordered the Government to pay $2.8 million in damages to a motorist who was assaulted by the police when he was stopped in St Catherine in May 2007.

Paul continues:

The judge’s statement has been refuted by the Police Commissioner who insists that the Police do have the power to stop and search members of the public. On the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Facebook Page the laws as the Police understand them are set out:

Police Powers to Stop and Search
by Jamaica Constabulary Force (Notes) on Monday, 1 July 2013 at 20:07.

The statement refers to the judge's ruling, noting that his “remarks will be examined by the High Command, to determine whether they have implications for how personnel operate on the front line.” It also reminds the Jamaican public about “powers given to the Police to conduct stop and search operations as part of their effort to control criminal activities, especially in instances where public thoroughfares are used”, their broad powers to stop and search vehicles and their occupants as well as their rights to stop and search for firearms, just to name a few. The blog post continues:

By a startling coincidence, the very day after this was made clear to the public the Police stopped a van on the North Coast of Jamaica and found that it was stuffed with lethal weapons, allegedly imported from Haiti. This reinforces the rationale for giving police such extra-judicial powers, a move supported by many citizens on the grounds of security. The problem is that there seem to be no checks and balances for the many occasions on which the police abuse these powers.

As far as the legal ruling goes, Active Voice notes that:
[The] move to police the police, has not gone unnoticed and unappreciated by those of us who demand that the wanton killing and maiming of innocent citizens by the Police be stopped forthwith.

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