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Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has been engaged for over a decade in training law enforcement officers, with special focus on police recruits. We do this to broaden their understanding of human rights, non-discrimination and working with vulnerable groups, which ultimately reduces the likelihood of abuse. In 2019 we trained over 996 police recruits on the eve of their entry into the field.

Our baseline assessment revealed that prior to the training, police recruits had low technical knowledge of specific human rights laws and protocols. Here is what we found.

“Less than 1% of police recruits could correctly name three laws that contained human rights protections, and less than a third (31%) 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.:

Aggregated results of pre-training assessment at the National Police College of Jamaica. 2019

However, knowledge of specific protections regarding arrest and bail was considerably better, with 91.4% of police recruits recalling the 24-hour time limit on detaining persons without formally charging them. 

Police Recruits at a 2019 Training Session

Creating safe and dignified spaces for vulnerable groups

To address these knowledge deficits, Jamaicans for Justice established a programme that brings together a team of national experts from different governmental and civil society organizations. Over a multi-day period, trainers deliver legal literacy education 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. 

Gloria Goffe of the Combined Disabilities Association teaches police recruits basic practices to guide blind persons

Over three days, trainers from Jamaicans for Justice, the Child Protection & Family Services Agency (CPFSA), TransWave Jamaica, the Jamaica Council on Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), Eve for Life, the Jamaica Association for Intellectual Disabilities (JAID), the Combined Disabilities Association, Jamaica Network of Seropostitives (JN+) 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 employs 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 simulate 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 are required 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 presented to 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, on average, police recruits had moderately low knowledge of child-specific protocols and legal provisions on the eve of their entry into the field. For example, while most recruits (68.5%) 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 (29.3%) had never heard of this legal standard, and very few could accurately explain its components. 

Similarly, more than a third (36.2%) 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 64.1% 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 conduct 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 work 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, nearly all (98.6%) of the respondents could correctly identify the Child Interaction Policy, and 93.3% 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.

To help us reach more police recruits, consider donating to Jamaicans for Justice.

Updated June 2020