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Kingston, Jamaica - Some Jamaican police officers will soon be wearing video cameras on their uniforms - in part to encourage officers to use appropriate force and perhaps curb high rates of killings by law enforcers in a country where they have long been accused of trigger-happy tactics.
On Thursday, National Security Minister Peter Bunting announced that “select” units of the Jamaica Constabulary Force will start wearing the cameras this year. The small cameras record anything from a traffic stop to a car chase to an unfolding violent crime and are typically worn on an officer's lapel or on a small headset.
At a press briefing, Bunting said it will encourage professional behaviour by police officers, improve transparency and evidence collection, and head off unfair allegations of wrongdoing.
The security minister's comments come as an independent commission that investigates charges of abuses by security forces is launching a probe into alleged homicides by policemen in Clarendon parish.
Bunting said the investigation is at a “sensitive stage” and he couldn't comment on it. “However, the administration views the issues of extrajudicial killings with the gravest concerns and is committed to the police being accountable for their actions,” he said.
Human rights activists have repeatedly criticised the high number of fatal shootings by Jamaica's nearly 10 000 police officers, and residents of poor neighbourhoods regularly protest what they insist are unjustified killings by lawmen.
Last year, 258 civilians were killed by security forces on the island of 2.7 million people. That was 39 more than the previous year.
Police say they are threatened by brazen suspects and the enormous amount of illegal guns on the streets. Last year, Jamaica had 1 197 homicides, a nine-percent increase from 2012.