by Kathrina Dabdoub
During a press conference held on June 4, 2020, Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson stated that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been in the process of acquiring body cameras since last May. This was not the first time such an announcement had been made.
In fact, in November 2019, Anderson declared that body cameras would be deployed “in the first quarter of next year”. It is now the end of the second quarter of 2020 – past Anderson’s stated timeline – and, as Minister of National Security Dr. Horace Chang recently confirmed, the JCF is not currently using the technology.
Over the past six-and-a-half years, the JCF, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), and successive Ministers of National Security have made similar declarations of intent to implement the widespread use of body cameras in everyday policing operations. These promises have yet to be fulfilled in any meaningful way.
The first significant commitment dates to January 23, 2014, when then Minister of National Security, Peter Bunting, announced that a project to equip select JCF units with body cameras would be launched in the second half of 2014.
There was no update on this plan until October 2014, when Bunting briefly indicated that the United States would be providing support. In December 2014, he detailed that the US would be contributing $45.4 million worth of equipment. Bunting also claimed that some members of the JCF had already been outfitted with cameras, but did not specify which units were employing them or when and how they were being utilised.
Then, in July 2015, Bunting revealed that the US had acquired about 400 body cameras which were to be donated to the Jamaican government. He remarked that “they [the US] have gone through their procurement process, and the order has been placed, so it’s just a matter of delivery, training, and putting the infrastructure in place.”
Nearly two years after Bunting’s initial declaration, the plan still had not been implemented, at least not on a wide-scale. According to the 2015 JCF Annual Report, 160 cameras had been acquired that year (as opposed to the 400 reportedly ordered) and a pilot project commenced, with the stated expectation that “in the upcoming year the project will be expanded to all operational units.”1
2016 was, perhaps, the most productive year for the initiative. In January, Dr. Carl Williams, then Commissioner of Police, stated that officers would begin wearing body cameras between the first and second quarter of the year.
This promise partially came to fruition on August 25, 2016 with the launch of the Body-Worn Camera Project in collaboration with the US Embassy. However, there was a caveat; only 120 cameras were acquired, to be issued to officers across six police divisions in Kingston & St Andrew. Cameras would be gradually rolled out across the entire JCF following an evaluation of the results of this pilot.2
As commendable as this small step forward may have been, questions persisted. What happened to the 160 cameras from the first “pilot project” that the JCF supposedly implemented just the year prior? Why was a new “pilot” necessary?