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Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has been educating police about human rights for almost a decade. We fundamentally believe that combatting human rights violations requires increasing officers’ knowledge about people’s rights and changing their attitudes towards their duties. To this end, JFJ staged a special intensive training for commander-level military and police officers to address these needs ahead of the rollout of new extraordinary security operations in designated “Zones of Special Operation” established by the government.

We engaged 56 senior officers in July 2017 who were responsible for training approximately 300 other officers. Participants included mainly Superintendents, Majors, Captains, and Warrant Officers. The training covered four areas: introduction human rights in local and international; the rights of vulnerable groups (like the disabled); the human rights approach to policing, including arrests, searches, seizures, and use of force; an d the new “Zones of Special Operation” legislation, the additional powers, redress mechanisms, and achieving balance.

Officers impacted positively by training

Our initial assessment revealed uneven attitudes towards human rights that needed intervention. For example, in the beginning, 20% of officers believed that bail could be denied if a person was ‘boisterous’ or ‘cussed them off.’ But by the end of the training 50% of officers who held that view, reversed their position. Similarly, all the officers who initially believed that torture was “sometimes allowable” changed their perspective by the end of the training, as did all those who thought that officers did not always have to use lethal force proportionally.

These outcomes are encouraging, even if small. They validate the value of sustained, context-specific human rights exposure that the officers themselves want more of. At the end of the training, nearly all officers expressed keen interest in learning more about human rights. 97.4% of officers considered the content valuable to their work. In fact, they requested that we adapt information to specific scenarios they faced while on active duty. Moreover, 70% of officers indicated that wanted further human rights training. Of that group, 81% wanted JFJ to be the entity to deliver the training. This is positive given the initial sentiment among some that human rights actors were “obstacles” to fighting crime.

Human rights violations by the security forces are not happenstance. They are enabled in part by pervasive ignorance among duty-bearers that allow dangerous beliefs and practices to take root. Sustained, action-oriented, and situationally adaptable training is not a panacea, but it is a critical step in changing the culture of the security forces. JFJ will continue to play its small part in achieving this through training, research, and advocacy.