Attorneys: PCA reports affect public confidence in TTPS
The eye-opening disclosures made in the Police Complaints Authority’s (PCA) latest annual report, where an increase in the number of reports being made against police officers was recorded, will continue to work to the detriment of the T&T Police Service (TTPS).
In fact, attorney Om Lalla and former Police Service Commission member Martin George, also an attorney, believe it will continue to reflect a lack of confidence in the TTPS on the part of the public.
The PCA’s 12th Annual Report 2021/2022, which was laid in parliament on Wednesday, said it had recorded the highest number of complaints against police officers, totalling 1,028.
Speaking with Guardian Media, George said the increasing reports to the PCA can be looked at from two perspectives.
“The increased number of cases could mean that, of course, there is an increase in corrupt or illegal activities or allegations of corrupt and illegal activities by police officers within the TTPS and on the other hand, it could also mean that there is greater vigilance and detection and therefore persons are now basically exposing them more with the advent of cellphone video and persons having surveillance cameras in their homes, premises,” George said.
He suggested that the Commissioner of Police should encourage citizens to do more recordings of police officers, “because that helps to keep policemen on their toes. We need to understand that transparency, openness and eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom.
“So, we must always be alert to these illegal activities. We must always be willing to expose them and we must always have a vigorous and robust mechanism for prosecuting them and ensuring that they come to fruition in a timely manner,” he added.
George said while he sat on the PSC, one of the big problems they had was the dragging on of cases for ten to 15 years with no prosecution.
“I mean we actually had some absurdities which occurred where we saw cases dragging on for ten, 15 years, the officers had time to retire, they were on half pay suspension. So, in other words, all that time for ten or 15 years you are not getting the benefit for their service they are on suspension and most of them in New York working for US dollars, plus they getting their half pay salary.”
George suggested that T&T take pattern from more developed jurisdictions, where, once there is an allegation, the officer/officers are sent on administrative leave.
“That sends a signal and you let the public know that you are serious in dealing with crime and criminality and illegal behaviour, even if its allegations within the Service,” George said.
“But if you don’t do those things and these officers continue as normal, they are not going to be bothered. The public is not going to have any further confidence in the system and as a result, you keep eroding and undermining the state and trust which the public is supposed to have in the TTPS,” George added.
Lalla, meanwhile, said the TTPS is a very important arm of law enforcement and increasing cases going before the PCA is of grave concern.
“So that we’ve seen a rise, an escalation of not only complaints but matters that are being prosecuted, it raises grave concerns because the confidence the public, who has to have confidence in the police service, they are left in a very precarious position because there’s a high degree of distrust among the population in terms of how the police service operates, and in spite of the good officers and the best intentions of the Commissioner of Police and the officers, these statistics demonstrates a serious problem in the police service,” Lalla said.
“And while prosecutions are taking place and complaints are being made, enough is not being done to address it in a way that the public is going to have confidence in the police service as a whole and until that is addressed, you’re going to have an increasing decline in confidence of the public and you know the police service relies heavily on the public’s support, not only general support but in providing information and being witnesses in matters in order for prosecutions to be successful.”
Lalla said the increase in reports against officers was alarming.
Although lauding the PCA for being very proactive and taking a very serious approach to doing things, he recommended something be done to rebuild confidence in the TTPS.
“Otherwise, we end up in a state where you know you have to rely on the police but you may not necessarily trust them, and that is dangerous.”
Lalla stressed that T&T’s criminal justice system was at a very critical point.
“We see the allegations being made against the DPP, the Attorney General…which is literally the heart of the criminal justice system. You have a police service that tries its best to keep its head above water but is constantly drowning in failing to address the serious crime rate or the lack of confidence in the public and until a serious approach is taken in terms of how the whole criminal justice system and all arms of it are dealt with, we’re going to have that declining confidence and a breakdown in really fixing crime in a meaningful way that the public feels a sense of confidence.”
By: Rhondor Dowla