Marvin Dames, Minister of National Security. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Marvin Dames yesterday defended the government’s failure to appoint the Police Complaints Inspectorate despite its legal mandate to do so.
Mr Dames confirmed the status of the civilian organisation - legally mandated to investigate complaints against police officers - as he responded to the latest US State Department report on human rights practices.
Referring to the report’s characterisation of prison conditions as “life-threatening”, Mr Dames said: “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“When we hear these stories,” Mr Dames continued, “it’s almost as if there’s a revelation that ‘gee, really, that’s happening?’ Every Bahamian knows, or ought to know for decades that the conditions at Her Majesty’s correctional services is sub-par.
“This is no new revelation, it’s every time I read that, gee we have conditions in the prison are sub-standard. We have known for decades, but we’re working on improving it.”
Mr Dames insisted the Minnis administration has made significant strides to transform the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services holistically - focusing on not only physical conditions but the training and development of correctional officers.
According to the US human rights report, the PCI has not met since September 2017.
Outside Cabinet yesterday, Mr Dames cautioned the media not to get sidetracked and suggested the civilian body was ineffective in its present form.
“That team,” he said, “what have they done since they were enacted? At the end of the day the police are responsible for investigating complaints filed against police officers - not that group. I said before, and you can go back to archives, that we’re working on putting in place a team but when we do that we want it to work.”
The Police Act requires five people to be appointed to the Police Complaints Inspectorate to ensure investigations into police complaints are conducted properly.
In its year in review report, the police force said the total number of complaints against police last year was 245.
Notwithstanding the group’s function, Mr Dames underscored it was ultimately the duty of the deputy commissioner of police to ensure complaints are properly investigated.
He pointed to the RFP process for body cams currently underway, adding there was also intent to introduce video cams.
Overall, Mr Dames underscored a focus on training and recruitment for law enforcement agencies that was unprecedented in recent years, stating the previous administration did a “terrible job”.
“I can tell you over the last five years under the previous government it was terrible,” he said, “so the quality of people you recruit will determine the effectiveness of your agencies or how they interact with the public.
He continued: “We’re living in a world now where technology is as such that one incident can move throughout this country in warp time. Not saying these things have just started or getting worse.
“This is the world we are living in. We have to prepare our officers so they understand what their role entails, which is you are servants of the public.”
He added: “Under this FNM government we are not going to cover up for any officer, you go out there, you take an action then you are accountable for that action that you take.”
Mr Dames pledged the government would reactivate the Police Complaints Inspectorate during his 2017-2018 budget contribution. He also committed the government to ensuring all accounts outlined in the Police Force Act are audited, and subsequently tabled in Parliament.