Regular cops lose M16s
Police to get less powerful guns
KARYL WALKER, Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
POLICE Commissioner Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin yesterday announced that the American-made M16 assault rifles, currently being used by cops on operational duties, will be replaced by the less powerful MP5 submachine guns.
The police chief said the phase-out of the M16 for regular police operations was part of efforts to curtail the use of deadly force within the constabulary. It comes less than a week after an 11-month-old infant was shot dead, allegedly by a bullet fired by a special constable chasing an illegal taxi operator on March Pen Road, St Catherine.
Lewin, who made the announcement at a media briefing at the Police Officers' Club in St Andrew, said only members of the Mobile Reserve - the special squad formed to deal with civil unrest or national emergencies - would be allowed to continue using M16 rifles.
"This is an effort to reduce the possibility of collateral damage because of the high-powered nature of the M16," Lewin said.
The M16 rifle is made by Colt and uses 5.56 mm bullets, while the German-designed MP5 uses smaller 9mm rounds and is made by Heckler and Koch.
It was not clear what was the timeframe for the phase-out of the M16s, but the decision is likely to come under fire from the rank-and-file within the constabulary, who have often complained that the guns-for-drugs trade operating between Jamaica and Haiti was providing local criminals with more sophisticated weapons than those being used by the police.
Some officers even complained that they were at a disadvantage when they confront well-armed criminals in gunbattles.
Yesterday, Lewin, the retired head of the Jamaica Defence Force, urged cops to exercise good judgment when in such situations.
"An officer must know how to protect himself; if the criminal has the advantage, then you retreat and go for him another day," Lewin told the Observer after the press conference.
In addition to the less powerful guns, some officers have been issued with non-lethal mace - tear gas in an aerosol can - as part of the force's human rights and use of force policy.
"The force will be seeking to acquire other options to present our officers with other options when they contemplate the use of force," Lewin told reporters.
The police chief said, too, that a drive was underway to recertify and retrain every officer enlisted in the force and to implement regular firearms training for them.
Yesterday, Lewin apologised to the parents and relatives of the child who was shot dead by the special constable and whose killing sparked a massive demonstration by residents of the community.
The implicated cop has since been suspended from the force while his colleagues who were on traffic duty with him have been removed from the front-line, Lewin said yesterday.
"It is a most unfortunate and tragic incident. We feel your grief and pain at this time," Lewin said. "Indeed, I was angry when the news was communicated to me."
The commissioner also announced that 10 of his officers were receiving martial arts and unarmed combat training and that more were in line to be trained.
A review of the training given to new recruits and a renewed vigour towards community policing was also announced by the police commissioner.
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"Government to foot bill for slain infant's funeral"
published: Sunday | March 9, 2008