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updated 8/3/2010 7:33:06 PM ET 2010-08-03T23:33:06

Jamaican authorities are on high alert after three police officers were killed in eight days, an unusual occurrence even for an island that has one of the world's highest murder rates.

Police Chief Owen Ellington said Tuesday that the killings were retribution for a crackdown on gangs that began with the hunt for an alleged drug lord sought by U.S. prosecutors.

Nine officers have been killed so far this year, compared to a total of 11 last year, when Jamaica reported a record 1,680 homicides. The worst day for police occurred in 2005, when five officers were shot to death in one day.

Security Minister Dwight Nelson ordered officers to do "whatever necessary to protect themselves."

The order came days after authorities detained three policemen who they said were caught on video beating and fatally shooting an unarmed and subdued murder suspect. The officers said they were being threatened.

Ellington said he has urged officers to take extra security precautions but offered no details.

"Our intelligence and the actions of criminals over the last week indicate calculated assaults on police personnel as we continue to disrupt and displace criminal gangs," the police chief said.

One officer died from three bullet wounds on July 26 as he investigated a store break-in, police said. Another was shot to death Aug. 1 by several gunmen, although no details were provided.

On Monday, police say a man took away the gun of an officer and killed him with it. The suspect was killed by other officers.

The police killings occurred just weeks after legislators lifted a monthlong state of public emergency despite warnings from Prime Minister Bruce Golding that crime would increase.

The curfew had been imposed while security forces searched for reputed drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke in May during a confrontation that killed 76 people. Coke finally was caught and is now jailed in New York facing drug and arms trafficking charges.

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