Jagdeo concedes some police wrongdoing but says force being unfairly maligned
By Patrick Denny
January 31, 2003
President Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday conceded that there were members of the police force who break the law and he said there should be a clear transparent process for dealing with them.
He asserted that he was prepared to do whatever it takes to restore confidence in the police by people who were genuinely concerned about breaches of the law by police officers.
But he said that the loss of confidence in the Police by sections of the community was being exacerbated by those political forces which believe they can attack the government by going after the police or its human rights record. This included sections of the media and he referred to an article in the Stabroek News as an example of what he called sensational reporting. He said he knew some elements of the media were even linked to the criminals.
In an exclusive interview with Stabroek News on Wednesday he said that if reforms involved strengthening the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) then he would do so. “Now the Police Complaints Authority is functional and more people should use it. They should go to the Police Complaints Authority and lodge a formal complaint.”
His comments were made in response to a question about the need to strengthen the PCA so that it could conduct independent investigations of allegations of extra-judicial killings by the Police and other unprofessional behaviour.
Jagdeo said, “The Police Complaints Authority is obligated to investigate..If we put in place the constitutional commission on Human Rights if people are still not satisfied with the (PCA) investigation they can go to the constitutional commission.”
About the sloth with which investigations of allegations of extra-judicial killings are conducted, President Jagdeo pointed out that ordinarily it takes a case about four years to be heard and to mount an inquiry, the Chancellor has to select one of the already hard-pressed magistrates to conduct it. “If it is done within a year that it is still considered fast given the length of time it takes to complete a normal case and people do not get this perspective.”
“You can’t expect one inquiry where it involves the Police to take place in two weeks when a normal case takes four years to complete in the country.”
Ideally he suggested it should take about six months but the state in which the judiciary is in at the present time affects the time it now takes for these inquiries to be conducted.
About the police detractors Jagdeo said that for them “every single day the Police could do no good in this country”, and about the Police arrest record, he said no one mentioned the more than 3,000 arrests over the past two months but instead complain that “everyone the Police come in contact with they kill.”
Referring to the Stabroek News report on Wednesday about the fatal shooting of Errol Immanuel on Tuesday night, President Jagdeo accused this newspaper of generating a false impression by obtaining information from unsubstantiated sources, who he said on most occasions were criminals themselves.
“It is so unfair to the Police because they have to go and investigate. They have to do an analysis of the event; they have to write up a report before they release it to the media. If they release something early when it goes to court they can lose.”
The Stabroek News report was based on eyewitnesses who told the reporter that Immanuel and a friend were sitting just outside St Andrew’s Kirk when a policeman walked up to him and shot him despite the fact that he had raised his hands in the air when a vanload of police drove up.
The President said that his “report is that he (Immanuel) snatched someone’s chain and he was running down the street and people saw that. There were eyewitnesses who saw him doing this but the Stabroek News report, unsubstantiated, put him sitting down peacefully on a wall singing praises to the Lord. That is the impression that is created every single day. You have to be fair to the Police.”
The President said that because of the seventeen police (now 18) who have been killed during the past months, “where people believe there is danger it heightens their awareness.”
He complained too that the detailed reports obtained from persons to whom Stabroek News speaks including the relatives of the persons shot “are biased” and ... this “helps to break down confidence in the Police.”
In a comment, Stabroek News Editor Anand Persaud said that the President’s criticisms of the newspaper’s reporting on fatal shootings by the police were ill-informed. Persaud said that in each instance a robust effort is made to obtain the police’s version of the event and this is given prominence in the report even if it is sharply at odds with information from eyewitnesses.
On many occasions the newspaper has to contact the police for its version before an official statement is made and in some cases there is no response by the police at all. A case in point is the shooting by police of two men in a bathroom stall in Werk-en-Rust on January 18. In these cases the newspaper has to rely on information from persons who say they are eyewitnesses and others. A careful attempt is made to discern which of the accounts appear to be credible and information from relatives is treated with care considering the likely inherent bias.
In the case of Errol Immanuel, only the information that appeared to be credible was included and an attempt was made immediately to contact the Police Public Relations Office but it had no information on the shooting. Persaud said that even though it was recognised that the police had to provide information with discretion so as not to jeopardise their investigations it was always possible to provide basic details and this in itself went some way towards dispelling wild reports that swirl at the scene of such shootings.
Persaud noted that the information that Immanuel had snatched a chain could have been immediately provided by the police.
He added that the newspaper would not be doing its job properly if it ignored the testimony of eyewitnesses or relied solely on the police’s version. Persaud said he was satisfied that the newspaper’s reporting on these shootings was as balanced as it could be in the circumstances.