The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) is not about to fight crime by breaching the civil rights of Barbadians, the island’s top law enforcement officer said.
The contentious Police (Amendment) Bill, which was approved by the Senate last night, has sparked fears among some Barbadians, including the Bar Association and social activist David Comissiong, that lawmen would abuse the powers that they have been given under the legislation, particularly against residents of the more deprived communities.
However, Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith told the annual conference of the RBPF at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St Michael this morning that the Force had no such intentions.
“I wish to assure Barbadians that the Royal Barbados Police Force has no interest in responding to the challenges associated with violent crime through the use of any intervention that in any way undermines the rights of its citizens,” Griffith told a packed auditorium of his men and women.
The legislatgion gives lawmen the power to, among other actions, cordon areas and impose curfews restricting the movement of people, while it significantly increases the power of cops to enter homes to carry out searches and other investigative operations.
Under the legislation, only a police officer with the rank of inspector or higher could cordon off an area to conduct investigations such as searches of vehicles, while a 48-hour curfew of a district or parish requires the approval of the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General.
Senators Carol Lady Haynes, Alvin Adams, John Watson, Sir Henry Fraser, Sir Roy Trotman, Sir Trevor Carmichael and Wilfred Abrahams had called for the withdrawal of the measure, pending public consultations, but to no avail.
In addition, a number of Barbadians went online to express their fears, concerns, apprehension and suspicion of the Act.
“I am vey fearful that this Act would pass just prior to a crucial election with government ministers warning of violence and blood flowing in the streets. I don’t know what they are trying to protect or hide, but this situation can become very dangerous,” one poster, David Brathwaite, posted on the Barbados TODAY website.
“The people’s democratic rights must be upheld. Search warrant should be issued before any such encounters; otherwise we are now become (sic) a police state and individual right is now eroded upon,” added another with the moniker, Helicopter(8P).
However, the top cop has sought to ease the minds of the population, insisting that his officers would not employ strong-armed tactics.
Nevertheless, he said, lawmen would not lie down and play dead while allowing violent criminals to run riot.
“It must be noted that our response to these and other challenges must reflect an understanding of communities that if not presented with strong law enforcement and other supporting interventions will serve as the incubator for violence, public disorder and ultimately an organized challenge to the rule of law,” Griffith said.
Therefore, he warned, wherever there is a threat to the life or freedoms of individuals, police will move to repel any such threat with all reasonable and legal interventions.
“It is within this context that we will continue to review existing legislation and where necessary, make submissions for the consideration and introduction of appropriate legislation if we are to remain effective and efficient in a rapidly changing criminal environment,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, despite the approval of the measure by both houses of Parliament, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite this morning hinted at the possibility of having wider public consultation on the legislation.
At the same time he said fears that police would trample on the civil liberties of citizens, and claims that the measure was unconstitutional, were unfounded.
“I believe that the misinformation has gone out there. I will spend some time on it on Sunday in a different place,” he told reporters on the sidelines of this morning’s police conference in response to a question from Barbados TODAY as to whether there should be further consultation on the Bill.
The Bar Association issued a statement on Tuesday expressing “deep” concern that the law gives the Commissioner of Police, with the written approval of the Attorney General, the power to impose a 48-hour curfew of a district or parish.
Similar powers exist in the Emergency Powers Act, but require the approval of a two-thirds majority of Parliament or the entire Cabinet. [email protected]