Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) retired judge William Ramlal will be heading to Berbice from March 25 for five days for his first outreach since taking office in September last year.
Ramlal told Stabroek News recently that he will be accompanied by at least four investigators. He said his team will meet with residents of Hopetown, Fort Wellington, New Amsterdam, Whim, Corriverton and Rose Hall and record any complaints against the police they receive.
“We try to cut down on the public having to travel long distances to access us,” he said while adding that Essequibo is likely to be the focus of his next outreach.
Ramlal added that while in Berbice he will also hold “sessions” with the police. “We have to tell them the problems we encounter…where they are going wrong and how to correct it… [and] what they can do to reduce the number of complaints against them,” he said, before adding that the engagement will take place in each of the areas so as not to cause too much disruption to the work of the ranks.
Asked why he chose Berbice as the area for his first visit, Ramlal told Stabroek News that the money that was allocated for the Authority “can only carry us to Berbice.” He stressed that outreaches to further areas will be heavily dependent of the availability of money.
The former High Court judge pointed out that though the PCA is an independent body, it does not have its own budget. Its funding is incorporated into allocations for the Ministry of Public Security.
He said at the moment the Authority has eight investigators and there is a vacancy for two. “We are supposed to be an independent body… not subject to the control of anyone. For some reason, we have never employed a single soul,” he said.
Asked whether he has raised the issue of hiring additional investigators with anyone, he explained that the president is “my boss” and that he has included the additional investigators in his report, which has to be submitted to Parliament by March 30th.
With regards to any administrative challenges he may be facing, Ramlal told this newspaper that some of the problems were raised with the subject ministry. He said that he is yet to meet with the president and, therefore, could not make those issues public.
In declining to say how many complaints were received by his office since his appointment, he explained that there is an existing protocol which he intends to follow. He said that according to the protocol, the report has to be handed over to Parliament and seen by the president before its contents can be made public. He added that he has already compiled a report but it has to be typed. “It is not good protocol to give figures to anyone before it goes to the president,” he stressed.
He did, however, disclose that members of the public have turned up to make complaints at the Brickdam office.
Making it clear that he is not trying to hide anything, he said the Authority compiles monthly figures.
Additionally, the Authority made recommendations in cases referred by the police’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
The Authority deals specifically with cases of police misconduct and unlawful deaths of persons at the hands of police.
A backlog of complaints would have greeted Ramlal when he assumed office as his appointment came more than a year and a half after the previous office holder, former Chancellor Cecil Kennard, was asked to step down due to his age.
In early 2017, Kennard, who had been chairman since 2002, was forced to step down by President David Granger because of his advanced age. At the time, he was almost 80 years old.
Kennard was initially given 36 hours to demit office, however he was given an extension after the intervention of Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.
In an interview in September 2016, Kennard had told Stabroek News that he had received 157 complaints for the year, 65 of which 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.
In January 2016, he had informed that 656 complaints were made against police officers for 2015, which represented a significant increase over the 430 complaints that were received in the preceding year.