By not submitting reports to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) in a timely fashion, police officers being investigated for killing citizens are undermining a crucial check in the legal system of Trinidad and Tobago.
Following a meeting with acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams last Wednesday, PCA head Gillian Lucky updated the public on four recent killings by police officers. In every case, the officers have been tardy in providing reports on the incidents, as requested by the Authority. Ms Lucky was clearly displeased with this modus operandi from the Police Service, and sounded a warning that Commissioner Williams would do well to heed.
“The challenge in this country is that we have laws and rules, and the reason people violate laws and rules is because they know there is no repercussion,” said Ms Lucky. “So if we really want to win this fight against crime, all those involved in this fight have to understand that if you don’t comply with laws, rules and regulations, and in this case standing orders, there will be repercussions. And it is only when this is implemented will you see a positive change.”
She pointed to Standing Order 4, which mandates a police officer to immediately make a report to his senior officers when he has discharged ammunition from a firearm in a shooting. According to Ms Lucky, however, this basic and necessary procedure is not followed in many cases. CoP Williams, who has final responsibility for ensuring that his officers cooperate fully with the PCA, should take note of Section 45 of the relevant Act, which allows the Authority to cite persons for contempt if they fail to produce requested documents or otherwise obstruct it in an investigation.
In order to avoid such a potentially embarrassing contretemps, Commissioner Williams would be well-advised to provide clerical and other assistance to police officers who have to submit reports on fatal shootings to the PCA. After all, citizens’ confidence in the police is already low, and the officers’ tardiness in these matters may well be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to stymie justice.
Hopefully, a closer working relationship between the CoP and the PCA will be one outcome of Wednesday’s meeting. In this regard, Ms Lucky also announced that body cameras for officers are already in the country and will be officially implemented by September—a measure for which Commissioner Williams has already expressed his own support, promising that the cameras will make transparent all confrontations between citizens and police.
These devices will become a key part of future investigations, and new technology allied to renewed commitment from those persons in leadership positions should help restore and rebuild trust in the Police Service.