By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
RECORDING on-duty police officers can have violent consequences some residents say, raising questions about whether the Royal Bahamas Police Force will embrace policies that will require widespread use of body cameras.
The Tribune obtained a video over the weekend from Damian Roberts, a man who recorded police arresting a suspect on Parliament Street earlier this year.
Before the clip ends, an officer can be seen charging toward him as he recorded the video.
“He slapped me,” Mr Roberts, a civil servant who requested his real name not be used, said yesterday. “When he saw I was recording, that’s when he ran toward me and asked me for my phone. I told him he can’t have it. He was shorter than me so I held the phone up high. Out of frustration, that’s when he hit me. I was very surprised. I’m a grown man and I didn’t expect someone to run up on me like that.
“I felt embarrassed and defenceless because I know if I did swing back it had to be like eight of them there so that wasn’t going to do in my favour. I felt violated.”
The incident in question occurred around 2am on July 20.
Mr Roberts chose to record because he felt police officers were inappropriately handling a suspect.
“They were like two steps from slapping one fella and they were wailing another guy,” he claimed.
He filed a complaint with the Complaints and Corruption Branch in the days after the incident. Nearly five months later, nothing has come out of the matter.
“I’m continuously calling Complaints and Corruption and all they say is it’s under active investigation,” he said.
Earlier this month, a woman similarly complained about a regrettable encounter with police after recording them.
“Officers literally break my phone because I was recording them ‘do their job’ – in a barbaric and unprofessional way – with guns drawn around my infant child,” the woman claimed in a Facebook post, adding: “Is there a law against recording a police officer in the open public? I think the entire RBPF, including the new recruits need a whole new training, they lack professionalism, respect and they have no order!”
She also claimed: “(The officer) forced me to open my phone to make sure I didn’t post it and went through my WhatsApp to see if I sent it out.”
In a recent interview with The Tribune, National Security Minister Marvin Dames acknowledged that the culture of the RBPF has been a “closed one” and said officers will have to move with the times.
“We are living in an era where the public demands greater accountability and responsibility of the officers,” he said. “When the police are out there and conducting the business of the people, there’s no secrecy there. That’s why training is important. I’ve seen some very good pictures where people have taken photos of police officers helping an old lady or helping a little school child. But then there are negative photos that really kind of aid us in our training. If a police officer for no apparent reason slaps a member of the public, because he or she is angry or gets flustered, these are unfortunate situations but what we can do is use a picture like that, videos like that as training tools of what not to do and how not to conduct yourself as a police officer.
“The vast majority of police officers are appalled when they see their colleagues behaving in such ways because it is a reflection on them. It evokes anger internally. No one wants to be painted as rogue or unprofessional.”
The government has completed a request for proposals to acquire body cameras, Mr Dames said. He expects the request to be presented to Cabinet in January 2019 before it is released to prospective bidders.
He hopes the cameras will help settle disputes about police actions.
“We’re living in an era where there is distrust to some extent between the police and the public because of the nature of their duties,” he said. “With a greater degree of transparency, what it does really is it gives all sides a true reflection of what happened, how it happened and who was responsible.”
Mr Dames said once body cameras are acquired and distributed, policies will be created to regulate their use.
In other jurisdictions, officials have been stumped trying to find the right policies.
According to the New York Times, some, but not all, American states have passed laws regarding public access to footage filmed by body cameras. It took months for officials in New York to draft a policy for the use of cameras, dealing with questions like when and where should police officers be required to turn their cameras on and which, if any, videos should be available under public records laws, the New York Times said.