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Deal with Police excesses

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13.JUNE.08

Hardly a week passes without some report either in the print media or via the many radio talk shows about allegations of violent excesses by some members of the local police.

While the case of calypsonian IPA may have received the greatest publicity, many complaints by citizens since then give equal or even greater cause for worry.{{more}} While it is true that we are far from being a “police state”, the frequency with which these allegations are being made demand urgent investigation and prompt action.

Some years ago, the Police Service here (we prefer “Service” to “Force” for obvious reasons) initiated a Public Relations campaign vested in a new Police Public Relations department. This was a bold and most welcome step, especially given the then uneasy relations between officers and citizens. That police-public relations were not the best was for no other reason than a long history of abuse of citizens by some members of the Police Service, who seemed determined to bring down the good name of their organization. Worse, there were even cases which resulted in the death of citizens where there was public perception of justice not having been done.

When Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves took office in 2001, hopes were high for a new attitude of the police towards the citizens of this country. After all, Dr. Gonsalves had established a reputation for standing up for the rights of citizens, including in several high-profile cases. The appointment of persons to the leadership of the police service who had not developed individual reputations for violent acts against citizens and were not on the unofficial list of police “brutes” gave all the more reason for hope.

Sadly, that hope seems to have evaporated judging by the regular reports. Many of these do not even involve persons suspected of criminal activity, but by and large law-abiding citizens. It is as if some police officers believe that they have a licence to assault and beat at will, or even for recreation. Mind you, we must stress that these officers are in the minority, but the reality is that in the eyes of the public there does not appear to be a sufficiently concerted effort to root out the perpetrators of these brutal actions from among the ranks.

We all are alarmed by the spread of criminal activity, including the spate of shootings and drug-related violence which endangers the safety of our citizens as it besmirches the reputation of our country. We do not expect the police to be able to handle these with the proverbial kid-gloves. Crime fighting is neither a laughing matter nor a Sunday-school picnic. But in order for the police to carry out their duties effectively, the support of the public is a vital necessity. However, those officers who engage in wanton and needless acts of violence against innocent civilians undermine such co-operation and jeopardize the fight against crime.

It may well be that the Police Service deals with the perpetrators internally, but the fact remains that the public is largely unaware. We appeal to the hierarchy of the Police Service to rein in or render toothless the misguided “pitbulls” in their ranks who continue to do disservice to the proud name of the Service, and call on Prime Minister Gonsalves to insist that each such complaint of unwarranted police violence against civilians is thoroughly and fairly investigated and wrong-doers punished. We need the police at our side protecting us, not instilling fear and inflicting injury.

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