PRIME MINISTER Dr Ralph Gonsalves says the government has zero tolerance for police brutality.
Gonsalves’ comments in relation to the matter came in Parliament on July 6, in response to Senator Shevern John, who asked how the government has been tackling police brutality and whether studies have been undertaken as to how to increase public confidence in the protective services of the police force.
“First of all, I want to say that the policy of this government, and it is in the police force also, to have zero tolerance for police brutality,” the Minister with responsibility for National Security said.
Gonsalves added that instances or allegations of police brutality are accommodated either through an internal investigation – in cases where the complainant does not wish to proceed with a court case – or in court.
In the latter, he said files are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, after the allegation has been investigated.
The Prime Minister said that in “the overwhelming number of cases, we have had prosecution”.
According to Gonsalves, several cases have come before the civil court for compensation.
In these situations, both the police and the state are sued.
He explained that some of those cases were dismissed while compensation has been paid in cases where police have been found guilty.
“There are some cases where there is no sense in defending the civil suit that…the Attorney General seeks to negotiate to see if we can have a settlement. But I want to assure the senator that this government has a zero tolerance towards police brutality,” the Prime Minister said.
The local police have come under fire from the public and in relation to the July 6 protest outside the House of Assembly, persons have expressed the view that the police officers lacked tolerance.
Residents of Layou also recently expressed their dissatisfaction with police following an incident on the morning of July 5, which saw an Rapid Response Unit officer apprehending a young man by pulling him by his hair into the back of the pickup truck and letting off a shot over a crowd of persons who apparently breached COVID19 protocols by playing amplified music and gathering in the street.
“Police can do their work without beating up people. Of course, the point is this; we must give the police officer however, the right to self-defence; that if somebody is coming to them and beating them or resisting arrest, they would have to subject them and subject them with reasonable force within the four walls of the law and not to go out on an excursion on their own. We don’t support any issue of police brutality,” the Minister of National Security stressed.
He also pointed out that “in the overwhelming number of cases, if a police officer is found guilty of a criminal offence, the Commissioner of Police will make the representation to the Public Service Commission…for this person to be dismissed from the force”.
However, the Commissioner can also exercise his discretion to not dismiss the officer.
Gonsalves said the government is always seeking to enhance public confidence in the protective services of the country.
He added that this has been done in several ways over the years.
This includes the government’s policy of having more police officers than before who are “far better trained and equipped”.
The Prime Minister also noted that there is a difference in salaries over the last two decades.
Other initiatives also include investigating reports made by the public and providing timely feedback; ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice in the overwhelming number of cases; information programmes via traditional and social media; crime prevention exhibitions; developing and participating in neighbourhood watch groups and youth programmes such as DARE.