Take care with PCA investigators
FEW PERSONS would seriously dispute that the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) has over very many years played an absolutely critical role in creating Barbados’ long-held reputation as a comparatively stable and low-crime society, in which the general public’s respect and cooperation have been crucial to the force’s success.
However, disagreement and friction sometimes erupt between members of the public and the RBPF over the manner in which some officers have performed their duties in relation to matters involving the man in the street.
That is why in 2001 the Government felt it necessary to establish the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), to which complaints by the public against the action of the RBPF can be directed for independent investigation. That was a welcome change to the preceding unsatisfactory state of affairs that saw the force in essence investigating itself, with the consequential breeding of mistrust and cynicism on the part of complainants.
Still, the emergence of the PCA did not end public dissatisfaction with the handling of complaints since both the length of time taken to investigate complaints and the personnel (still including police officers) conducting such investigations have remained concerns.
And so the public must have been greatly encouraged by Tuesday’s announcement in the House of Assembly by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that the PCA might soon have its own corps of investigators.
In theory, implementation of this proposal should improve the way the PCA carries out its function, the perception of the process by complainants and the general public, and the eventual outcomes of issues because of a sense of greater transparency, independence and trust.
But it is critical that care be taken in the recruiting of PCA investigators. These must be people of the highest calibre, who by their investigative conduct can assure the sources of complaints and the society at large that their duties have been carried out in keeping with the highest standards, and that no biases – institutional, political, whatever – played any part in determining their findings.
In any society, family, professional and political ties can and have been known to colour the judgement of persons who are not always able to successfully compartmentalize their roles and be utterly fair, balanced and objective in their professional undertakings. These deficiencies have been seen to be even more acute and likely in small societies like Barbados.
Any mishandling of the appointment of the suggested PCA investigators could very well end up further deepening public cynicism where the police are concerned, with all the possible spin-offs in damage to long-term relations between the RBPF and the society, a situation we can ill afford to encourage if we are to maintain both the reality and the perception of a sound society with a healthy respect for law and order.