Since taking on the mantle of Minister of National Security, Gary Griffith has been extremely vocal about his intention to “fight” crime aggressively. His latest salvo, as quoted in the media, is his intention to “fire all those rogue police officers” and to “take very firm action” on the conduct of some abusive police officers. No doubt the minister would love to see the crime statistics dramatically reduced under his watch but it seems to me that he is confusing his role with that of the Commissioner of Police.
Under the Constitution, which was amended in 2006, the Commissioner of Police “has the complete power to manage the Police Service”. He is also required to ensure that the human, financial and material resources available to the Police Service are used in an efficient and effective manner. To that end the Police Service was given its own budget in 2010.
The power of the Police Commissioner is only circumscribed in specific instances by those of the Police Service Commission (PSC) in that the PSC exercises disciplinary control over the commissioner and the deputies; monitors their efficiency and effectiveness; and hears appeals from the decisions of the Commissioner in relation to promotion and disciplinary matters.
Otherwise it is the Police Commissioner who appoints persons to hold or act in an office in the Police Service (other than himself and the deputies), including the power to make appointments on promotion and to confirm appointments. Furthermore, it is he alone who has the power to transfer any police officer or remove from office or exercise disciplinary control over police officers, other than deputy commissioners.
Under our Constitution a commissioner of police has singularly more power than any other head of department or division and, while he may be chastised or corrected by the PSC or the courts, the Minister of National Security cannot take over any of his functions.
The Constitution at section 85 gives a minister general powers where he has been assigned responsibility for a department of government to “exercise general direction and control over that department”. This means that Minister Griffith may have power to recommend the passage of laws that affect the Police Service or make policy decisions, for example to upgrade the CSI capacity and develop a state of the art DNA unit, but he cannot manage the Police Service or venture into its day-to-day operations.
In that regard, therefore, the minister clearly has no power to “fire” any police officer, rogue or otherwise. That remains totally within the purview of the Commissioner of Police, subject to an appeal to the PSC or a challenge in court. Furthermore, he cannot take any action against abuses of authority by a police officer. Again, this disciplinary function belongs to the Commissioner and the PSC.
If a citizen has a problem with the police there is always the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to be accessed. The PCA will/may investigate the matter and send its report or recommendation as the case may be to the commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In addition, if a disciplinary infraction is alleged against a police officer (other than the commissioner or a deputy, who are dealt with by the PSC) the commissioner may constitute a disciplinary tribunal to hear the charge and the tribunal can make a determination. Thereafter it is for the commissioner to act in the matter, whether it is to dismiss (fire) the officer or otherwise.
It is all well and good for the minister to talk of implementing new policies to reduce crime, increase public confidence in the Police Service and modernise data collection. Once it is policy that he is referring to that is fine but he is out of his element entirely when he seeks to directly manage or command the Police Service.
To say, for instance, that an officer who told an alleged suspect who sought to turn himself in to return to the police station another time should have been dismissed “one time” demonstrates total ignorance of not only industrial relations and natural justice but also of the very law that the minister should be upholding.
The Police Service regulations allow the commissioner to suspend someone with immediate effect but the person may only be dismissed after he has been charged for a disciplinary offence and given a hearing.
Another issue referred to by the minister is the problem of person or persons turning a blind eye and awarding “gang leaders” contracts. Mr Griffith asserts that under his watch this would be eliminated.
That is a bold statement for the minister to make. First of all, is there any proof that persons were awarded contracts and secondly, that they were gang leaders? If there is, should he not take this matter to Cabinet which has collective control of the Government and responsibility for its actions?
If any arm of the State is seeking to award palliative contracts to criminal elements it is a matter for the attention of the Government as a whole and not one minister, who is only there at the whim of the Prime Minister.
It is true that ministers in various administrations have been seen to be cosying up to reputed criminal elements and contracts for “security” and “construction” have been awarded to some shady figures.
Rather than one minister making bold assurances that he would stop it, one expects the Government as a whole or its leader, the Prime Minister, to effect and voice this policy of the Government.
Minister Griffith may be well intentioned but he comes across as a talkative modern-day John Wayne who believes he has more powers that he in fact has. If he is to be of any value to the nation he must first grasp what the extent of his authority is and act in accordance with it.
• Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator