By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A CIVILIAN organisation that is legally mandated to investigate complaints against police officers has not had a meeting since September 2017, according to the United States’ latest human rights report.
The Police Act requires five people to be appointed to the Police Complaints Inspectorate to ensure investigations into police complaints are conducted properly. However, lawyers said yesterday National Security Minister Marvin Dames does not appear to have appointed anyone to the office. The government did not respond to The Tribune’s questions concerning this before press time; Mr Dames is out of the country and also did not respond.
Attorney Elliot Lockhart, the previous head of the Inspectorate, said his tenure ended around the time the Progressive Liberal Party lost the 2017 general election.
The US human rights report said 143 complaints were made against police from January to November last year; the Royal Bahamas Police Force, in its year in review report, said the total number of complaints against police last year was 245.
US human rights reports have come to consistently highlight either the Inspectorate’s low output of work or the lack of information concerning its actions. The Inspectorate is not required by law to report on its activities. Since the Police Act 2009 came into force, little has been revealed about its work.
In 2018, the US State Department wrote that the Inspectorate had not met as of September 4, 2017. In 2017, the US wrote the Inspectorate did not provide statistics in 2016 and in 2016 it wrote that the Inspectorate did not meet as of October 2015. In 2015 and 2014, the US wrote that “no information was available on the outcome of PCIO proceedings” for 2014 and 2013. In 2013, it wrote that “the government declined to provide more recent data” concerning the PCIO for 2012, adding: “The PCIO, which composed of five citizens met eight times during 2011 to consider 60 complaints against officers, most of which involved assault and unlawful arrest cases. No information was available on the outcome of the PCIO proceedings.”
Critics have long complained about the lack of transparency surrounding investigations into accusations of police misconduct and have advocated for an office like the Inspectorate, ran by civilians who can provide oversight of the Complaints and Corruption Unit of the police force. Many who make complaints to that branch say they are never told the results of investigations. Police have not revealed the results of investigations into several high-profile, viral incidents last year.
Damian Roberts, a taxi driver, showed The Tribune in December a video of an encounter he had with an officer downtown. He said he made a complaint in July because the officer slapped him the face. Police have yet to update him on the matter as of yesterday, he said, seven months after he made his initial complaint.
According to the Police Act, members of the Police Complaints Inspectorate must “review the investigation and determination of a complaint by the Complaints and Corruption Branch…so as to ensure that the investigation is conducted impartially; report to the minister from time to time or at his request and review reports from the Complaints and Corruption Branch.”
The law empowers the body to request any information, document or “things” related to a complaint “from the commissioner, the Complaints and Corruption Branch, a person making a complaint, a member of the RBFP or any other person who may be able to assist.” The Inspectorate can also give guidance to the Complaints and Corruption Branch “as may be necessary to ensure thoroughness and impartiality.”
Appointees to the Inspectorate must not be police officers or anyone who has held political office within five years of his/her appointment, according to the law.