Fear And Loathing In The Bahamas

AN OFTEN overused term in political and legal spheres is that “justice must satisfy the appearance of justice”. Just as critical as the need for the courts to appear to be free from political impunity, the police must also appear to be fair and transparent in its administration of the law. Both play a critical role in maintaining law and order and in fostering respect for law and order - an interdependent cycle.

In a high crime environment, the fear of crime can be correlated to a diminished confidence in the police. This confidence is either fed or starved by the “appearance” of police organisations to be effective in clamping down on the criminal element. While crime statistics go far to document the results of the government’s war on crime, numbers do not provide much solace to residents of “hot spot” communities that are interchangeably both victims and suspects. 

Fear of crime has a significant economic impact on both the individual and the community and has a causal effect on quality of life. But what is the effect of the fear of police on crime, and what are the strategies to address disenfranchisement in communities whose involvement are critical to the solution?

Supposedly this is where the community policing of Urban Renewal makes an intervention; however altruistic efforts are undermined by interactions with police on the front lines of the crime war, where an all-out assault on the criminal element can sometimes be blind and indiscriminate.

During my time in the newsroom, I’ve seen with my own eyes the danger of being perceived as a criminal on a small island with heavy police saturation. While there have been countless accusations of groundless assault by police in their attempt to fulfil political and social expectations, there has been little pushback from the organisation or the government over net results. Do the ends justify the means? 

Branded as dangerous ghettos, how has property and commercial value of both businesses and residences fared in the inner-cities? How have the young men from these areas, branded as dangerous thugs by the highest levels of government, fared?

Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson has once again ordered a full progress report from Department of Public Prosecutions officials over the unlawful killing of Aaron Rolle while in police custody.

Mrs Maynard-Gibson told reporters that she expected to be briefed on whether prosecutors intended to levy charges against the officers involved in the incident. And that she could be expected to provide an update on the manner in the next two days. 

There has been no statement from the AG’s office on the matter, which would have been proactive. But one can hope, when journalists petition for answers outside the Cabinet steps this week, there can be some conclusive update on this matter.

On May 7, 2013, a jury consisting of four women and one man concluded that force used against Rolle by police while in custody was unjustifiable. 

Rolle, who was 20 at the time, died at the Southern Police Station on February 8. His death came hours after he was taken into custody for questioning related to armed robbery and escape.

A pathology report later found that Rolle died from haemorrhaging and a ruptured intestine, caused by blunt force trauma to the chest.

Make no mistake: the media does not seek to make Rolle a martyr. But in the absence of any movement, any advocacy from the government, how can our reaction be anything short of critical and speculative over the will of authorities to police themselves.

Do we care what happened to Rolle as a society? Is the fear of crime so high that we are willing to overlook, or overstep, due process?

News media has a role to play, and greater dialogue is needed at home on whether or not institutions can continue the facade as neutral observer. For the past four weeks, a free lecture series on the Bahamian Constitution has been hosted at the Palmdale Primary School. The series started on April 28, and for the final lecture Domek Rolle, of Hanna Kellman and Associates, will present the topic ‘Abolish the Privy Council as the Final Court of Appeal for The Bahamas?’ tonight. 

In an interview with The Tribune, event organiser Sheleta Collie criticised news media over their lack of coverage. Ms Collie charged that news organisations were only drawn to the innercity community by gore and violence. Her perspective is unsettling against a backdrop of government condemnation over reporting by private media companies, and an absence of media literacy programmes that would provide grassroots activists with the tools to bolster their agenda onto the national platform.

In a 1983 Law & Society Review article, researchers analysed the impact of a “crime wave” on fear and confidence in the police. Researchers theorised that while a crime wave is marked by an abrupt increase in reported crime, there was a crucial distinction between crime and reported crime, and the latter was a function of the media and police crime-reporting practices. In that vein, crime waves are more about social awareness of crime and public consciousness.

In 2012, police announced that the homicide detection rate was less than 50 per cent, with some witnesses of crime to afraid to come forward.

In 2013, a Inter-American Development Bank study revealed that over a four-year period, only 5.1 per cent of these cases resulted in a conviction. This represented one conviction for every 20 murder suspects during 2005-2009.

This paired with repeated sentiments from top officials that the country is under seige by re-offenders, it can be argued that police are justifiably frustrated. What becomes of this frustration when mobilised by increased saturation patrols and no overtime pay in sight?

The question is unanswered for now as the police have yet to implement psychological assessments for our men and women on the front lines, and with executive command unwilling to expose their bad apples.

According to statistics, police have resolved less than 12 per cent of the 265 complaints filed against officers in New Providence through the Complaints and Corruptions Unit (CCU) for 2013.

Of that figure, less than six per cent went before the police tribunal.

During my coverage of a recent police complaint it was discovered that the entire incident may have been captured on the CCTV security of a nearby business. However, the owner directly refused to assist or release the footage. The reason given was that the owner feared victimisation if they were to get involved in any way, regardless of whether or not the footage caught the alleged incident.

Assault accounted for 53 per cent of grievances put to the CCU from the period 2009 to 2013, according to police statistics. Of the 265 cases reported to the CCU in New Providence for 2013, only 30 have been completed.

According to statistics, 180 are still being investigated and 55 cases are “sub judice”, meaning the complainant is facing charges before a regular court.

If the justice system can be faulted for creating setbacks to the crime fight due to back logs, what sort of effect does similarly slow system of police tribunals have on the crime fight?

In 2009, there were 86 murders and 287 complaints against the police. In 2010, there were 94 murders and 385 complaints; in 2011, there were 127 murders and 287 complaints; in 2012, there were 111 murders and 240 complaints; and in 2013, there were 119 murders and 285 complaints. 

But numbers are simply not enough, especially when reporting and record-keeping are at times inconsistent - and to be fair this could be the result of updated methodologies. We need a clear and tough stance on police corruption that can be felt, that can “appear” to be effective. We need it just as badly as we need the war against crime, if not more so.

What do you think?


birdiestrachan 6 years, 4 months ago

It makes my soul sad when anyone dies while in Police custody. I remember the young man who it was said hung him self.. he was a school boy. those persons are defence less.


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