Are the police judge, jury and executioner?
HAS THE Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF), or at least elements within it, assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner where persons suspected of committing crimes are concerned? Is the RSVGPF taking the “Force” in its name too literally, ignoring that the institution ought to be first and foremost, a service to the community?
SEARCHLIGHT raises these questions both in the context of its own experience recently, as well as a number of disturbing reports which have come to the attention of the public.
Recent media exposure in both traditional as well as social media have made allegations of excessive force by the police in the handling of suspects or when executing search warrants. There is also widespread concern over what is perceived as tardiness by the police in carrying out investigations, the well-publicized case involving the Deputy Speaker of Parliament being one such example; then there is the worrying spate of murders, some still unsolved. In addition, the case involving the disappearance of arms and ammunition from a police station, in which a former police officer has been charged, has raised a number of serious questions about the Police and national security.
Naturally, the local media has been raising these issues and asking questions. We take our responsibility as a media organisation very seriously and insist on our right to investigate reports, and report on our findings. We insist on our right to ask questions and demand answers from those in high office, including those charged with the sacred responsibility of public safety and security. We refuse to be intimidated by the actions of some police officers who seem to feel that might is right in this country.
Two weeks ago, we published a story concerning the experience of one of our reporters who conducted an interview with a man, allegedly shot by police, who was under police guard in the Hospital. The patient had not been charged at the time of the interview and in fact was allowed to receive and speak to visitors. Two weeks later, he still has not been charged.
Yet after our reporter interviewed the man, she was accosted by a police officer who told her that she was not allowed to interview the patient since “the matter was under investigation”. She was told that in interviewing the man, she had committed a “criminal offence” for which she could be charged. The police officer had no answer when our reporter asked what investigation he was referring to. He then proceeded to force her to delete the recorded interview.
It is our contention that the police officer exceeded his authority and what he did was a gross violation of press freedom. Even if a person is suspected of being a dangerous criminal, he is just that – a suspect. The police have no right to act as judge, jury and executioner. Are we becoming like certain parts of the United States where certain groups of people are assumed by some police officers to be criminals or potential criminals and therefore subject to gratuitous acts of violence?
The justice system must be allowed to work and take its course. That is why institutions like the media exist — we are here to bring checks and balance to the whole process. We have a right, and indeed a duty, to expose wrong doing and to insist that justice take its course. We will not be hindered in the conduct of our work once we are satisfied that we are acting within the law.