Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Orville Taylor | Shoot to kill again

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2022 | 12:10 AM

He blinks! Just moments ago, a youth brandished a gun and ran. The boy, a 17-year-old with bleached-out face, is trapped in a dead end. Constable Dibble, with the smell of plastic wrap all over him and milk on his mouth, points his weapon on the...

He blinks! Just moments ago, a youth brandished a gun and ran. The boy, a 17-year-old with bleached-out face, is trapped in a dead end. Constable Dibble, with the smell of plastic wrap all over him and milk on his mouth, points his weapon on the lad. As the little bleacher, whose female-type pink trousers, below his gluteus maximus, were too tight to allow him to run pivots, he points the gun down as he is about to drop it. His urine follows the direction of the gun.

Dibble fires, the boy crumbles and the rookie cop is still in shock that he is wearing handcuffs. And of course, given the law passed by the same parliamentarians that said no bail for murder and shooting crimes, he is behind bars and joins the more than 80 other police officers who are on suspension without pay.

Worse, as the Police Federation tries to scrape up the funds to pay a senior counsel, his mother laments that Dibble is the main breadwinner for his household and he cannot procure legal aid, because it is unavailable to cops.

Someone had told young Dibble that it was all right to shoot without discretion when police officers feel a credible threat. In the 1960s when some of the old cops were in basic school, a prime minister said, “Read no beatitudes, take no measurements!” Years earlier, less than nine months after we got token independence, our Rastafari and police were killed in the infamous Bad Friday massacre in Coral Gardens. All the lives were of black people. Then, between 1974 and 1994 an entire regimen under the Suppression of Crimes Act saw untold atrocities committed by the security forces.

Flash forward to the 2000s and we have an Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and myriad internal agencies of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) who all can make a police officer go to prison for breaking the law and violating human rights.

So, why is Dibble under arrest and charged and facing a long sentence? Breaches of firearm act and offences against the person act. The answer is that he committed a criminal act.


Two weeks ago, Minister of National Security Horace Chang made his now infamous ‘shoot to kill!’ statement. Chang is not a police officer, and like others who have taken on the portfolio, has never been one. However, he is a medical doctor and thus understands the sanctity of life. Inasmuch as he has sought to clarify what he meant, his spoken words were as lethal as bullets fired into a crowd and sent a message that could not logically have been intended.

Defenders of the minister have raised the issue of context, arguing that what he said was misunderstood. Therefore, a greater clarification was necessary. What must be understood is that there are very clear rules of engagement when deadly force is to be used. Police officers are trained to aim for the largest target. There is a nonsensical argument that police officers, in the full execution of their duties or in live-shooting situations, should aim for non-lethal spots. At best that is foolhardy because one needs the best opportunity of ending the threat. Moreover, it is far easier to miss a target off the shoulder or moving legs than the largest body mass which is the core.

In situations where deadly force is necessary, within the definitions of the law, national and international use of force protocols, one is not likely to get a chance at a second shot if one’s first is inaccurate. Therefore, make no mistake! If there is just cause to pop off and squeeze, then shooting to kill is an appropriate instruction.

Case law, statute, the UN’s and the police’s own Use of Force Policy have unambiguous guidelines. One uses proportionate force to dispel a threat. The principles are binding in law and practice and can bring great sanctions against the country. The Leahy Law in the USA did precisely that in 2015, as it prevented our security forces from accessing important tactical support needed to do their work.

Importantly, “Exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.” Generally, if a person is reaching for a firearm, including the one on your hip or in your hand, then you shoot him. Pointing a firearm to a police officer is suicidal. So is someone trying to do serious bodily harm to another person.

However, while an ordinary firearm holder’s obligations end after the threat has been dispelled, police must immediately offer assistance such as first aid and get the ‘victim’ to medical attention in the shortest possible time. Wilfully leaving a suspect to die violates the imperative of their oath and could make them liable before the law.

Similarly, the Hippocratic Oath has no ‘Y’ in it. In hospital emergency rooms, the medical personnel must treat the most severe cases first, irrespective of their crimes or reputations. Police and doctors who have difficulty working by these principles must walk away from the profession.

Doubtless, I empathise with Chang, given the sheer brutality of these killers. But civilised enforcers of law cannot play by criminal rules. They are criminals because they do not live by society’s rules.

Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to and