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Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has been engaged for over a decade in the training of law enforcement officers at all levels. We do this to broaden their understanding of human rights, non-discrimination and working with vulnerable groups, which ultimately lessens the occurrence of human rights violations by state agents. As part of this strategy, JFJ recently rolled out an initiative to train over 120 police recruits of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and assess their existing knowledge of human rights on the eve of their entry into the field.

Our baseline assessment revealed that police recruits had low technical knowledge of specific human rights laws and protocols. Only 1% of recruits could correctly name three laws that contained human rights protections, and less than half (44%) could correctly name three policies of the JCF that regulated their conduct regarding human rights or vulnerable groups – such as the police’s Use of Force and Human Rights Policy, the Diversity Policy or the Child Interaction Policy. However, knowledge of specific protections regarding arrest and bail was considerably better, with 94% of recruits recalling the 24-hour time limit on detaining persons without formally charging them.

Creating safe and dignified spaces for vulnerable groups

To address these knowledge deficits, JFJ brought together a team of national experts from six governmental and civil society organisations to deliver legal literacy training on human rights policing and scenario-based education on gender, non-discrimination and working with vulnerable groups such as the disabled, children, and victims of sexual violence at the National Police College of Jamaica.

Over three days, experts from the Child Protection & Family Services Agency, TransWave Jamaica, the Jamaica Council on Persons with Disabilities, the Jamaica Association for Intellectual Disabilities, the Combined Disabilities Association, and legal personnel from JFJ built the capacity of recruits on six priority areas:

  1. Understanding Human Rights Policing
  2. Child Rights, The Child Protection System and Child Justice
  3. Working with Victims of Sexual Violence
  4. Protecting Gender & Sexual Minorities
  5. Use of Force, Detention, and Search
  6. Working with Persons with Disabilities

The training team employed interactive learning methods such as role play and demonstrations that made the content relatable for recruits. When learning how to work with victims of sexual violence, recruits simulated real life experiences of victims who had traumatic experiences reporting sexual violence. And after viewing demonstrations on the proper techniques for assisting blind, deaf and other disabled persons, police recruits had to trade places and practice their new skills.

“TransWave Jamaica is thankful for the opportunity to increase awareness of some of the challenges trans and gender non-conforming Jamaicans face” – Neish McLean, Executive Director of TransWave Jamaica.

McLean, who trained recruits on working with gender and sexual Minorities is excited about the effects the training will have, arguing that “the knowledge shared, if implemented, can help to provide a safer environment for the trans community.” For many recruits, this was their first time learning about gender and sexual diversity as well as their first time directly engaging an openly transgender person – a critically important step in dismantling stigma and discrimination.

Protecting the rights of the child

Our baseline knowledge assessment revealed that police recruits had moderately low knowledge of child-specific protocols and legal provisions on the eve of their entry into field. For example, while most recruits (71.3%) had heard of the legal principle the “Best Interest of the Child” – the cross-cutting legal standard that impacts every decision concerning a child in Jamaica – almost one third (28.7%) had never heard of this legal standard, and very few could accurately explain its components.

Similarly, more than a third (36.5%) of recruits reported not knowing about the police force’s own Child Interaction Policy – which establishes protocols for handling various circumstances involving vulnerable children as witnesses, victims or even perpetrators of crimes – and 66.1% had never heard of the Child Justice Guidelines – the national standards for children interfacing with the justice system.

To address this, trainers from JFJ and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency conducted intensive sessions on the functioning of the child protection and child justice systems that built legal literacy of the Child Care and Protection Act, and practical understanding of the Child Justice Guidelines and the JCF’s Child Interaction Policy. Recruits then worked in groups to map out responses to a series of policing scenarios involving children, such as policing in schools, responding to reports of child abuse in communities, and working with children in conflict with the law.

Reimagining police training

This intervention was necessary because training of police recruits usually focuses on the tactical elements of law enforcement, with limited knowledge of the human rights concepts, protocols and protections related to policing. The results of the training so far have been encouraging. Recruits demonstrated substantially increased in knowledge of specific laws that protect human rights, all the respondents could correctly identify the Child Interaction Policy, and 98% of the recruits could now correctly provide the legally permitted time period to detain someone without charge.

Human rights violations by the security forces are not happenstance. They are enabled in part by low awareness of human rights among duty-bearers that allows dangerous beliefs and practices to take root. By incorporating human rights trainings across all levels of law enforcement, we can begin to change the policing culture of the Force. JFJ will continue to play its part in helping to create a police force that respects the human rights of ALL Jamaicans.