Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The PCA is necessary

Dana Seetahal logo47

Mark Fraser

 It was reported earlier this week that a member of the executive of the Police Social and Welfare Association has suggested the Police Complaints Au­tho­rity (PCA) should “suspend ope­ra­tions”, following an alleged breach of confidentiality. The PCA had prepared a report on the so-called “new” Flying Squad. This report, which was sent by the PCA to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), somehow found its way into the hands of the media and an Oppo­sition senator.

The concern expressed in some quarters appears to focus entirely on the “leaking” of the PCA report rather than its contents. The suggestion is the PCA is responsible for the leak. Queries were even raised as to how it is the Government was kept in the dark while an Opposition senator has the report. The PCA, in response, has stated it forwarded a copy of its findings to the DPP on Feb­ruary 28 (in accordance with the law) and never leaked it to anyone. 

At this point, it is unknown how the report was obtained by other parties. The PCA, having denied it disclosed the report to others, on the basis of the presumption of innocence alone, it should be assumed that they did not. It is premature, at the very least without more evidence, to put the blame for the leak on the shoulders of the PCA. 

It is an offence under Section 47 of the PCA Act to disclose confidential information without lawful justification or excuse. The law pro­-

vides for a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. It is within the remit of the Police Service, therefore, if there is a perceived breach of this section to investigate it. I would have expected the president and/or secretary of the association to make this point and recommend such an investigation rather than calling for the PCA itself to be shut down on such a tenuous basis.

The PCA as it currently exists is constituted under a 2006 act, agreed to by both the then opposition and the then PNM (People’s National Movement) government. This law which came into effect in 2007 is said to provide for “an independent body to investigate criminal offences involving police officers, police corrup­tion and serious police misconduct, and for other related matters”. In many respects, this law is similar to those of other countries which have recognised there should be an independent body, outside of the police, to “police” the police. This is viewed as necessary to maintain the integrity of any investigation of police mis­conduct, for the simple reason there is likely to be a conflict of inte­rest if the police were solely responsible for investigating members of its own organisation. 

The act provides, among other things, for the PCA to: 

(a) investigate criminal offences involving police officers, police corruption and serious police misconduct 

(b) undertake enquiries into, or audits of, any aspect of police activities, for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is police corruption or serious police misconduct 

(c) monitor an investigation conduc­ted by any person or authority, in relation to any matter mentioned in para­-

graph (a) and to undertake audits of those investigations.

The act also allows the PCA to “gather evidence” in three different situations: 

1. where the evidence relates to the commission of an offence, in relation to the Police Service, by a non-police officer 

2. where the evidence may be used in the investigation of serious police misconduct 

3. where the evidence can be used in the prosecution of a police officer involved in a criminal offence.

It is important to note the PCA really does not have the facilities or resources to “investigate” criminal offences such as murder, said to be committed by a police officer. This is so, even though the act itself states once the Commissioner has information a criminal offence involving police officers, police corruption or police misconduct has occurred, he “shall immediately inform” the PCA. Thereafter, the PCA shall have “the sole responsibility for dealing with those matters”.

One may ask whether this means, in respect of all reports of police killings said to be unlawful, the Commissioner must transfer the investigation to the PCA. The act seems to contemplate this but is this rational? Can the PCA, with its limited resour­ces, conduct identification parades, facilitate crime scene investigations, perform fingerprint examinations, collect DNA samples, arrange for draughtsmen, officia  photographers and the other myriad of things necessary to a proper investigation? 

I would suggest not. The PCA, while it may conduct an investigation, must be constrained by its lack of resources and expertise that are enjoyed by the Police Service.

What it can do however is to monitor police investigations into alle­ged criminal con­duct by police officers and conduct enqui­ries as stated above. In this regard, it appears to me the PCA has in the past few years performed outstandingly. For instance, the PCA was involved in monitoring and gathering of evidence in both the Moruga police killings and the Sea Lots incident. It is also in the public domain the PCA has begun to gather evidence in the shooting death of Naim Dean (by the police), which occurred last weekend. 

Most importantly, in a country where public trust in the police is still low, it appears the PCA has generated public confidence that the body is independent and is responsive. While this trust may have been partially achieved by its public education campaign throughout the country, it may also be because the PCA seems to have a hands-on approach in its interaction with the public. 

The PCA is here to stay, and the police and politicians must recognise that it would be a retrograde step to even suggest we could do with­out such a body. If that were attempted, public trust in the police would plummet even further. The resulting damage to our administration of justice would be immea­-