National Security Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Horace Chang, has indicated that while all citizens have a right to life, in a situation where the police and gunmen are in armed combat, the first right to life is relative to the law enforcers.
Chang made the assertion while speaking at Wednesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, where he sought to clarify aspects of his recent comments, in which he stated that police officers should “fire back” if they are engaged by gunmen in fire fights.
“… I said if they (the police) are attacked by criminals, or policemen come under attack by criminals, they should return fire. The term I used was ‘fire back’,” Chang insisted on Wednesday.
“It’s a standard use-of-force policy anywhere on the globe. If you come under deadly attack, you are entitled to respond,” he added.
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and some human rights groups, such as Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), have insisted that Chang’s statement was seemingly suggesting that police officers should “shoot to kill” when confronted by armed criminals, and called for him to retract the comments.
However, on Wednesday morning, Chang said there is nothing to withdraw from his comments last week.
“I don’t think there was anything there to withdraw or to change. It was felt that the circumstance in which I said it would stimulate the police officers to take, maybe, unusual action. I don’t think so,” he stated.
“I think training of the police force is now adequate, strong, and is creating a force (not only) for good, but a highly disciplined operation,” he said.
Chang, did not exactly use the term “shoot to kill”, as was being suggested that he did during his address last Thursday at the ground-breaking for the Frome Police Station in Westmoreland.
File photo of policing during a period of volatility in the Mountain View area of Eastern Kingston.
“They (the police) not out there shooting down people like that. There are fatal shootings because man shoot gun after dem. I not telling police not to fire back, and a say it right here in Westmoreland, I not sending no ambulance out there either,” declared Chang last Thursday.
“Anytime a man take up a gun after police, I expect the (police) commissioner to train the police when they must not miss,” he indicated.
The deputy prime minister on Wednesday reiterated that “in a combat situation…, the first right to life, I think, is that of the policeman who is acting to protect (himself) and the wider society.”
Chang also clarified his comments on the training of policemen to not to miss when firing at gunmen in conflicts.
“… I further indicated that I am entreating the commissioner of police to train them (the police) well. If they are not properly trained and they miss, they get killed and (maybe) other members of the community.
“That’s my position, and that’s what I said, and I don’t expect anyone to consider that if I am sending police officers out there, I would be committing an act of negligence if I send half-trained police officers to face hardened criminals with firepower which they (the police) don’t have,” said the national security minister.
According to him, the Government is “not allowed” to provide police with the types of weaponry that the gunmen now have.
“I cannot get gunsmiths to extend the magazine and… get 48 clips into nine millimetres and machine pistols like Mack 11…
“The police have to operate with standard weapons, which is part of the training and the responsibility of the Government, to provide them with a set standard of operating equipment,” Chang informed.
The minister has faced severe backlash from several human rights groups and legal professionals over his statements.
For his part, Opposition Leader and People’s National Party President, Mark Golding, described Chang’s remarks as having been “ill-advised”, and said it “sends the potential signal of endorsing unlawful killings”.