There will be no investigation into an allegation of police mistreatment of a taxi operator and his passenger if the aggrieved operator fails to file a written complaint against the law enforcement officers concerned.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce told Barbados TODAY the Royal Barbados Police Force would not act unless there was an official protest to the Police Complaints Authority.
The taxi driver, who requested anonymity, said the officers had acted unprofessionally when they stopped him yesterday and demanded to search his vehicle.
The entire episode was filmed and posted to Facebook, but the video has since been removed from the social media site.
Boyce said if the driver felt his rights had been abused he should bring it to the attention of the proper authorities in the approved manner.
“If he believes the approach was an abuse of power, we can do the investigation for him. But he has to come into the office of the Police Complaints Authority and lay a statement in writing and report the matter for an investigation,” the senior police officer said.
The upset taxi operator, who yesterday came to the offices of Barbados TODAY to tell his story, said he was on his way to Ruby, St Philip yesterday afternoon when he was stopped by police while driving past Six Roads.
Curious as to why he had been stopped, he asked the officers for an explanation.
“I said, ‘what happen officer?’ He told me, ‘down all four windows, [I] cannot see in the back’. I rolled them down. He told me he was carrying out a search operation and I asked him why, because I did nothing wrong, I’m a decent guy. They said again they were searching the vehicle, [and] I said on what grounds?” the taxi operator explained.
He said the police refused to give a reason, insisting they were not obligated to do so.
Having not received an explanation, the driver refused to allow the search.
“I say, ‘well I would like a reason for the search. I was told you need to have a warrant to be searched’. He told me he wasn’t telling me what he was searching for. I told them, ‘no they can’t search it’. They said, ‘OK,’” he explained.
Not getting through to the taxi operator, the police officers turned their attention to the passenger, leading to an exchange that ended in the passenger’s arrest, the driver said.
As the episode unfolded the passenger became irritated because he needed to get to the bank, the taxi man said.
He said he attempted to pacify the passenger by telling him to beware of the lawmen “because the police look for any reason to charge you”.
“Quick so police open the door and took him out. From there they told him he smelt like marijuana, and ‘we have suspicions of marijuana’. The guy told them he doesn’t even smoke, so he told them they could take him along. They started to go in his boxers and he said let him go and he curse. So when he cursed they said, ‘yea, got you now. We are going to charge you for abusive language’. From there now, they put on the handcuffs and took him along,” the driver explained.
He stressed he had no difficulty with police doing their job, but they must be professional.
“All they had to do was say, ‘we are carrying out routine searches, we just want to know if there’s any illegal substances, etc, can you please allow us to search the vehicle?’ in a proper manner. Not bully a man to search his vehicle. The way in which they did it is what made him [the passenger] get on like that and what made me say no,” the irate taxi operator said.
He reminded the officers that they were here to serve, protect and reassure and not to be hostile to civilians.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do things. How they did it was very unprofessional. Because a man look young and just wearing a t-shirt and have on a chain you can’t just assume and think he’s a gangster. That was an abuse of power in my eye sight,” he added.
In encouraging the driver to report the issue, Boyce said police were allowed to stop and search vehicles at their discretion, but they should state the reason for the search.
“You can’t legislate procedure on the road. They speak to the person who is driving and they wave the level of suspicion as to why they are stopping the vehicle. If they are doing vehicle stops they let you know they are doing vehicle stops and they want to see your driver’s licence and insurance and road tax and so on. If there is suspicion that there is contraband in the vehicle and it’s enough to create suspicion, then they can ask the driver of the vehicle who is in charge of the vehicle, to permit a consented search and a search can be done,” the policeman explained.