The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has received 157 complaints against police ranks during the first eight months of this year and its Chairman, retired judge Cecil Kennard, has noted the need for additional investigations in light of the increasing number of reports being received each year.
Kennard told Stabroek News that 65 of the complaints received were for the neglect of duty, nine for acting in a manner likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the force and eight for unlawful arrest and eight for police misconduct. Only two complaints of corruption were made.
Speaking from the PCA’s Brickdam office, he said that there is approximately a 6 to 7 percent increase in the number of complaints made when the periods January 1 to August 31, 2016, and January 1 to August 31, 2015 are compared.
Asked if he is surprised that the bulk of the complaints made are for the neglect of duty, he said that this has been the trend for years. He noted that under the Police Act, there are many offences which fall under the heading “neglect of duty,” including not attending court, not taking down a report, not acting on the report and not doing a proper investigation.
Based on the information provided by Kennard, some complaints also related to unlawful seizure of property, assault, improper conduct, wanting in civility to members of the public, abuse of power, threats, police harassment, conduct in an oppressive manner, abuse and use of excessive force.
In many cases, Kennard noted, the PCA has recommended disciplinary action under the Police (Discipline) Act and in some cases it recommended that warnings be issued. “As long as a case is deserving of the rank being disciplined, we are going to recommend that he be charged departmentally and dealt with,” he said.
He explained that in those cases where ranks are found to be at fault, he is “duty-bound” to recommend an appropriate penalty which can take many forms, including a warning, transfer from the district, the award of extra duties or a fine.
Kennard emphasised that there are many actions he can recommend and noted that very rarely would he recommend that the rank be dismissed. His main recommendations has been that the rank be required to perform extra duties, or be confined to barracks or that a fine be imposed on him/her.
According to him, in recommending an appropriate penalty, particularly removal from force, he looks at the nature of the offence. He singled out corruption or serious wounding as offences that he would recommend dismissal for. “But, of course, the Commissioner of Police would have to give the person a hearing,” he said, while noting that the rank has to be given a chance to defend himself before a penalty is imposed.
“It is a fair procedure,” he stressed.
Asked whether the PCA follows up on its recommendations, Kennard said the police force is required to give the agency feedback at the conclusion of disciplinary hearings and it has been doing so.
Kennard also noted that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which is conducting a programme with the Ministry of Public Security, has suggested that the PCA get more investigators.
He said presently there are four and the suggestion is that six more be hired. He agreed that such an increase is necessary given the current workload and the fact that investigations do take a bit of time to be completed. “You have to interview the person making the complaints. You have to interview witnesses and in some cases you may have to visit scenes of crimes… for the investigators to do a good job we have to give them time so that every aspect of the complaint is looked at. We don’t like to do a haphazard thing,” he said.
The PCA, he added, has suggested that for the time being an additional four could be sought and more can be hired later to reach the IDB’s suggested complement of 10.
On April 1, 2014, independent investigators were appointed to the PCA and they function under the direct supervision of the Chairman.
Kennard said that he is satisfied with the work of the Authority since the investigators have been assigned as matters no longer have to await the Police Commissioner to initiate investigations as in the past. Now, he said, the PCA can conduct its own investigation and forward the necessary information with recommendations to the Commissioner. “It shortens the process and as a result of that the complaints are disposed of quite expeditiously,” he said.
According to Kennard, he had told investigators that their work on each case must be completed within two months. “It must not be longer than that. Many will be completed before but if you have to do an in-depth investigation—for example, if it is alleged that the police may have shot somebody or killed somebody, it takes a longer time,” he said, while noting that simpler cases can be dealt with quickly but it still takes time because one has to bear in mind that investigators are dealing with multiple cases at a time.
Kennard encouraged members of the public to come to his office whenever the police may have offended them. He said that he is very concerned about corruption in the police force, particularly by members of the Traffic Department. The situation recently prompted acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine to issue a warning to ranks against harassing members of the public or face consequences for their conduct.
Kennard said that not all complaints of corruption reach the PCA as some can be dealt with by the police force’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the complaints department located at each police station. “So, it doesn’t necessarily come to us,” he said.
Kennard added that another problem has been that persons who make complaints about corruption later come and say they want no further action. As a result, he said that members of the public “will have to make up their minds and be strong” and should “facilitate the investigation to its fullest.”
The PCA office is currently located at 39 Brickdam, in the building which houses the land court, opposite the Business School.
It can be contacted on telephone numbers 226-2095 or 226-1399. Additionally, written complaints can be forwarded to it online at email@example.com.
The PCA, which is an independent body, was established by the Police Complaints Authority Act 1989 (No. 9/1989) and came into being on December 29, 1989 by virtue of Order No. 4/1990. It started to function on January 2, 1990.