Police Federation dismisses call for cops charged with breaches of law to be discharged before trial

Senior staff reporter

Friday, November 01, 2019

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Police Federation Chairman Sergeant Patrae Rowe last night described as absurd a recommendation by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) that cops charged with egregious breaches of law or practice be discharged from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) without awaiting criminal proceedings.

The recommendation, which is likely to spark controversy, is contained in INDECOM's second quarterly report for 2019 tabled in Parliament on Tuesday and which was addressed by head of INDECOM Terrence Williams at a news conference yesterday at the entity's office in New Kingston.

The recommendation states that “in egregious cases, where clear breaches of policy, practice or law are apparent... officers be discharged from the police service, without awaiting pending criminal proceedings”.

However, Sergeant Rowe, when contacted for a response by the Jamaica Observer, said: “I want to dismiss that comment as an absurdity because one of the things that we've always emphasised is that police officers, like everybody else, are citizens of Jamaica and enjoy constitutional rights. And police officers have a right to due process, have a right to a fair hearing, have a right to the presumption of innocence before [being proven] guilty.”

The criminal standard, Sergeant Rowe argued, “is much higher than the administrative or internal disciplinary standard”, and therefore if the punishment for a cop's action is termination from the job or a likely prison sentence, the police officer must be able to answer to a court of a higher standard.

“What INDECOM is exposing our officers to is a vulnerable situation which may expose them to more injustice, and the Police Federation, without even widescale consultation on this matter, feels that INDECOM's recommendation is unwarranted and it amounts to an absurdity,” Rowe emphasised.

INDECOM is also recommending that, “Officers under suspicion should be removed from front-line duties to ensure there is no appearance of collusion or tolerance of such incidents.”

Williams told journalists that the commission does not know how many police officers with criminal proceedings against them are actually on front-line duty.

He indicated that INDECOM only becomes aware that an officer under investigation is still on front-line duty when it starts to investigate other cases and realises that the same cop is involved.

“Apart from those who commit the second misconduct, those others we don't know [whether they're on front-line duty],” he said.

The INDECOM commissioner said the JCF has not, so far, complied with repeated requests for information on the number of such officers who remain on the front line. It has also asked for information on the criteria for suspending or interdicting officers following charges.

According to the INDECOM report, there are currently 49 officers charged with murder awaiting trial.

“Whilst a proportion of these officers are in custody, or have been suspended from duty, it is known that a number have been permitted to remain on active duty and it is apparent that the public interest criteria does not appear to be taken into account, nor the wider legal implications,” the report stated.

It further stated that: “If officers have been criminally charged, or committed a violation of policy, then the ability to effectively perform their duties must be fully examined. Failure to ensure fitness for duty oftentimes results in detrimental occurrences, which are manifested on and off duty through excessive use of force, domestic violence or suicide, and create legal liability upon the JCF or the State in failing to ensure citizen safety.”

Williams pointed to instances of officers with charges against them remaining on front-line duty and becoming involved in other cases of police excess, some of them fatal.

He noted, for example, the case of an officer identified in 10 police-involved fatal shootings; another in 28 police-involved fatal shootings; an officer involved in the commission of “a clear criminal act” recorded on video, but was not removed from duty nor his weapon taken.

However, in response, Sergeant Rowe said an officer under investigation doesn't disqualify him or her from duty.

“The nature of policing requires frequent interaction, violent interaction, with criminals. With the crime rate that Jamaica is currently experiencing, if the number of police officers involved in confrontation with criminals are to be removed off front-line duties, who does the job of the police? Everybody can't be removed off front-line duties simply because they are under investigation. I think INDECOM's reason has to have more depth than this,” Rowe said.

At the news conference, Williams insisted that the JCF's administrative review proceedings needed to be reassessed, and that it should receive and consider reports from INDECOM to ensure all factors are taken into account.

The commission also wants an immediate review of the JCF policies in relation to keep-and-care firearms, both at initial authorisation, and particularly following incidents of violence — whether or not charges are laid.

INDECOM has also recommended the implementation of an early intervention system, which would assist in identifying problematic behaviour at an early stage and allow for wider discretion to prevent, manage or remedy risk.

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