The state-appointed police watch dog agency is calling for greater independence and more teeth to probe public complaints against lawmen.
Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) retired High Court Judge Elneth Kentish is also recommending a significant curtailing of the involvement of the Commissioner of Police in the investigation process.
Justice Kentish strongly believes the ability of the authority to summarily adjudicate complaints against police officers would inspire greater confidence by the general public in the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) and speed up the determination of cases.
“The authority wishes to emphasize the need for an independent and legitimate means of investigation to address the concerns of the general public with any grievance about police action or conduct,” declared the PCA chairman in her conclusions and recommendations in the 2019 Annual Police Complaints Authority Report, a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY.
Justice Kentish also reasoned that an independent body could help address any “declining service standards” in the force.
“The authority remains firm in the belief that an independent system, both perceived and real, can be a significant barrier to declining service standards at a period when service delivery, productivity and police actions are constantly under scrutiny by the public at large,” she declared.
“The ability of the authority to deal summarily with some complaints would lead to a speedier disposal of complaints. This would lead to a reduction of the backlog of matters awaiting investigation by the Commissioner of Police,” the retired judicial officer added.
“It would also allow for a more timely resolution of complaints, engender confidence in the complaints process and alleviate some of the apprehension from delays experienced by members of the general public in relation to complaints against the police,” she said in the 32-page report already laid in Parliament.
While suggesting that consideration must be given to the proper allocation of additional time and resources to facilitate direct investigations by the authority, Justice Kentish is adamant that a more independent PCA would allow the force to focus on core policing duties.
“The authority continues to be of the opinion that its ability to investigate and make a timely determination on complaints made to it, could allow the Royal Barbados Police Force to use their already scarce resources more efficiently in core policing areas and go a long way towards engendering confidence by the public in the system,” she stated.
“To this end, the authority has commenced discussions with the Royal Barbados Police Force on the forging of a Memorandum of Understanding which would facilitate this objective,” the retired High Court Judge announced.
She concluded that transparency, fairness and confidence are “extremely” important elements when forging an amicable relationship between the police and the general public.
“Every effort must be made to continually improve and balance the relationship between the police and the public especially in this dynamic environment,” she said.
She reiterated the PCA’s position that in order to reduce the number of complaints of “undesirable behavior” on the part of some police officers as they interact with the public, refresher courses should be offered to law enforcers continually.
The former judge suggested that these courses should include public relations, human rights and customer service, along with classes that emphasize the duties and responsibilities of police officers.
Justice Kentish also sees the need for sensitivity, empathy and objectivity in dealing with matters of domestic violence and recommends that this should form a core part of ongoing police training.
The PCA head is also concerned about a shortage in human resources to properly run its operations.
“The authority is presently functioning at a disadvantage in that it is not fully constituted as provided by the Act. Another member should be appointed as a matter of urgency to ensure a quorum is present given the vicissitudes of life,” she stated.
The backlog of cases is also of worry to the authority.
Justice Kentish revealed that to date, no meaningful progress has been made in backlog reduction as the authority awaits the requisite information from the Office of the Commissioner of Police in relation to those complaints so the PCA can implement its contemplated programme for this purpose.
The retired judge said the more than $261,000 which was allocated in the 2019-2020 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure remained adequate and continues to service the needs of the agency even in these challenging times. [email protected]