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Police, people and propaganda!

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Is a police officer always right? No! Neither is the citizen always right. We need to be fair. There are numerous cases which go through the law courts every week in our country where police officers are the victims of physical attack by members of the public. How often do we hear about these things? What happened to the police officer in uniform who was slapped by a certain man at the Port when there was the unrest there over the issue of paying the one dollar fee?{{more}} It will be interesting to do a survey of incidences of brutality against the police. There is need in this regard for the prosecuting agencies to ensure at all times that all instances of resisting arrest are highlighted, since there is a tendency to avoid mentioning of these small incidences at the behest of the greater charge. I have no personal interest in defending the police if they are doing badly, but I will not condone instances where our good officers are dragged through the mud unfairly.

Our police force is constantly evolving and is always in the process of finding solutions to many problems. These problems cannot all be solved at once and a police officer who steps out of line must be dealt with accordingly and in this case, by allowing the due process of the law to take its full course.

In the court of public opinion however, justice is not always served, since few drift into making irresponsible statements which seek to tarnish both the innocent and the guilty. Some advice to our commentators is to avoid the excitement of the story, and to apply a fair process, giving both the police and the public complainant a fair chance in the public’s ears. The unfairness in judgement is stark, there is an allegation of an incident of police brutality and the entire Police Department is black-listed. Is this rational? It is in this light, that there is need to further encourage, that cases must never be politicized through misguided generalizations of any sort which are orchestrated to attack the entire police force unjustly.

Those who attempt to negatively colour code cases to foster a political agenda are really hampering rather than assisting the process. The fractures created when a people lose trust and confidence in the police can damage the security of our state irreparably. We cannot afford such today. Surely not in times like these when there is evidence globally of increases in pockets of crime.

It is impossible to improve the ability of the police to reduce crime unless the police and community relations are substantially cordial. These relationships have been getting increasingly worse in recent weeks because of rising reports of alleged frequent physical and verbal abuse committed by police officers against citizens. However, justice must be done in every case.

In many ways, the job of policing is an increasingly complex task. Police work in the traditional sense has always maintained as its focus the duty to fight crime, solve problems and basically enforce the laws of the land. The manner in which this is done sometimes brings to light issues touching and concerning the use of force, and, in some instances, a suggestive abuse of power.

No matter what cosmetic treatment is given to the profession, the police organisation will continue to be the constant in people’s lives, primarily concerned about public safety, security and certain quality-of-life issues.

Regardless of debate, the public at large must remember that uppermost in the hierarchy of needs, people expect to be safe and protected. In very simple terms, law-abiding, decent people legitimately expect to be insulated and protected from those in our society, who are intent on pursuing criminal behaviour. In exercising their duties, police officers must be circumspect in every way.

In recent years, we have seen an inordinate amount of attention being focused on the police profession, some of it worthwhile and constructive, some of it merely rhetorical. However justified, reproach is more the exception than the norm. The concept of police brutality is so often abused, that it may be envisaged that this very abuse can one day assist in preventing serious cases from receiving an equivalent degree of respect.

When the symptoms and the causes of diminished safety in our society continue to be propagated, who other than the police will continue to maintain the thin blue line separating the good from the bad and provide some degree of public safety from certain anarchy? So, to seek political mileage or simply turn an important case into jest or radio politics to no finite end, is defeating our noble purpose as a people. We need to build our nation by structurally addressing this problem.

The police have traditionally enjoyed a great deal of support from our citizens, the very people who give the police the legitimacy to protect them. In other words, the community will generally receive the type, quality and quantity of policing it wants and is willing to sustain. It is this fact that validates and reinforces the concept of community policing. Be assured that, regardless of frustrations, as a profession, the police will continue to provide the most efficient and dedicated services that will ensure enhanced public safety, security and quality of life. This can be done by working intimately with the community.

I have great confidence in the impartiality of Reverend Job and the Police Oversight Body. Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done for both the police and the public.

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.

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