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The problem is real

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08.MAY.09

We can bury our heads in the sand as much as we want, the problem will not go away. We can blame the media, saying the outcry is of their making, this will not help. There will still be the perception among many members of the general public that some members of the police force have used and are using unreasonable force against members of the public, and do it with impunity.{{more}}

Let it be clear. We believe that the vast majority of police officers are hard working, honest law officers and carry out their duties to protect and serve with distinction. We also recognize that the job of a police officer is a difficult, sometimes thankless one, fraught with danger with little financial reward to compensate.

We know that many times the police are provoked by members of the general public for just doing their jobs. As recently as Tuesday of this week, police officers outside the Serious Offences Court were on the receiving end of several taunts and threats by members of the public who had gathered to hear the outcome of a court matter. On that occasion, the officers displayed remarkable restraint. This is as it should be. We applaud them for this and would like to believe this is the standard behaviour and not an exception.

We are aware that the police undergo serious challenges every day on the job and play a critical role in maintaining law and order in our society. Despite this, it doesn’t mean that we should not speak out when we see things going wrong.

Over the last few years, there have been several dozen allegations of police brutality made by members of the public. The Commissioner of Police has said that he doubts the veracity of many of these claims. While we concede that some complaints might be unfounded, it is highly unlikely that the majority of the cases are baseless. Why would so many different people, of different ages and walks of life, from different parts of the country make totally false allegations against our police officers? There must be some element of truth, or some dissident faction that is responsible for these many allegations.

There are several worrying aspects about the allegations of police brutality which have come to the fore in the last year or two. Firstly, in all this time, we have not heard about the outcome of the investigations that we are always told will be carried out when complaints are made to the Police Public Relations Department. In the absence of information, the public is left to assume that nothing was done. We are aware that there are procedures under the Police Act for the internal disciplining of members of the Police Force and these proceedings are regularly carried out. It would perhaps help if the public was made aware of the more serious infractions to inspire confidence and trust that police abuse is not swept under the carpet.

Secondly, in the majority of the cases, the persons who allege police brutality are either not charged or even arrested by the police officers whom they claim assaulted them. Our question is this: Why then were they beaten? They could not have been resisting arrest as they were not ultimately arrested. Were they found in possession of some illegal substance or weapon? If so, why then weren’t they charged?

We also ask ourselves, why is it necessary for four or five officers to have to beat one individual in an attempt to restrain him or her? Is the training which our officers receive deficient in some way? Or is it that enough emphasis is not placed on sensitivity training and instilling a greater sense of public duty in the minds of members of the police force?

There is need for the use of more diplomacy and less force in the way in which police officers deal with the public. In small communities such as ours, we cannot afford to needlessly rile up our people. One young man is slapped around then told to go home; his pain and resentment are shared by dozens in his community. This sort of action puts to naught the hard work being done by other police officers who run the Police Boys’ Clubs and other similar community programmes.

What then, can we do? The Commissioner of Police told Searchlight of certain measures he intends to take, including making members of the Rapid Response Unit wear identification tags. How much will this help, we wonder?

The Prime Minister, unlike the Commissioner, has said that most reasonable persons will conclude that some of the reports must be true. Although the Prime Minister is saying all the right things, somehow, his words ring hollow. In this case, we are not getting the energy that usually accompanies matters about which our Prime Minister is passionate.

The Police Oversight Body has been set up, but is that enough? The Oversight Body will deal with matters after the fact. What are we doing to prevent them from occurring in the first place? How forcefully is the message being sent to the people involved that these actions will not be tolerated?

Mr. Prime Minister, only you have the power to deal with this situation as the present situation is untenable. We are in dire need of a solution where the public can be assured that the very people who are commissioned to protect us, are not the very ones we need to be protected from.

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