Give more power to police complaints authority
June 21, 2002
Like Guyana, Jamaica has been deeply troubled by the twin dilemmas of deadly violence targeted at the police and extra-judicial killings by the police. For this year, five Guyanese policemen have been murdered. In Jamaica, with a larger population, seven policemen have lost their lives in the line of duty. The extra-judicial killing debate has reached a crescendo here and in Jamaica it has persisted for a long time. Just recently, in Kingston, four policemen were committed to stand trial for the murder of a man. Action of this sort is rarely seen here or is usually tempered by diluting the charge to manslaughter. In the rare cases in Guyana where murder is the charge against a policeman, it comes only after sustained public pressure, as occurred in a recent case.
Open societies have learnt that independent police complaints authorities serve as a bulwark on the side of the people in cases of alleged atrocities by law enforcement personnel. Guyana's experience with the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has not been a happy one and comprehensive changes have been argued for. The relatively new chairman of the body, former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Cecil Kennard, has gone on record in this newspaper advocating many of the amendments that have been called for.
Developments this week in Jamaica were therefore of great interest. According to a report in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, National Security Minister Peter Phillips announced plans to enhance the independence of Jamaica's PCA and its investigative powers. Phillips said that a critical change for which legislation is already before Parliament will be the right of the PCA to give directions to a police officer investigating a complaint of police wrongdoing. Additionally, the PCA will have the mandate to send its findings directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions for that office to make a ruling on whether charges should be preferred.
These are all revolutionary developments which Mr Kennard would do well to impress upon the powers that be to include in the new configuration for the Guyana PCA under consideration.
Internal police investigative units are no substitute for an independent PCA that is fearless and unrelenting in its pursuit of the truth where members of the public believe that a crime has been committed by the police. The Office of Professional Responsibility that currently exists cannot be the arbiter in these cases, nestled as it is in the heart of Eve Leary.
In the present tribulations that have engulfed society over crime and extra-judicial killings, there is no time like the present to begin giving the PCA enforcement teeth. Lawmakers and decision makers in Guyana deserve special medals for the art of procrastination and stalemate. So whereas a new Chairman of the PCA was appointed in January and there were high hopes that changes to the complaints authority would be instituted, six months on there is no evidence that the public's anticipation has been requited.
Another fault that is as Guyanese as creek water and labba is the inability or unwillingness to give effect to new legislation that has been promulgated. So, if for instance a law was passed empowering the PCA to hire 10 independent investigators to do its sleuthing it is quite possible that the sum required for this may never be voted.
Guyanese are also notorious for falling short of their civic duties. So where there may be a lot of talk about police corruption and brutality, very few people are willing to take up the challenge and pursue their own cases. It is usually left to the Kwayanas to take up legal cudgels. Those who complain bitterly about police abuses must elevate their protest to the next step and complain to the PCA with chapter and verse. Test the system and see if it works. If it doesn't those in charge will have to answer to the public.