Police probe must be fair
WE DO NOT for one minute doubt the resolve or sincerity of Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith to get to the bottom of the shooting death of 57-year-old Selwyn Knight last Sunday morning at Dash Gap, Bank Hall, St Michael.
We are also in no doubt that the commissioner meant what he said when he made it clear that the force will investigate thoroughly the incident which also left Knight’s son, Junior, with two gunshot wounds.
We believe all Barbadians should also accept that both Griffith and Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who is responsible for police matters, were sincere when they tendered apologies and extended sympathies to the Knight family, who are no doubt going through what must be their most gut-wrenching crisis ever.
When two responsible adults, not known for any illegal behaviour, suffer a robbery at their own home in what should be the serenity of a typical Bajan Sunday morning and chase after the culprit, only to find themselves facing a barrage of bullets from the gun of an off-duty cop one can understand why citizens would anxiously watch the subsequent police investigation.
Not just the outcome will be of interest to Barbadians, but the very conduct of the probe. We do not advocate a witch-hunt on the part of the force in order to satisfy any perceived demand for blood, but neither do we expect even a hint of an attempt by members of the force to protect one of their own from any possibility of prosecution.
The probe must be thorough, but it must also be fair and even-handed – to the shooter as well as the victims and their family.
Notwithstanding what must clearly be a criminal investigation given the nature of the event, which would have attracted nothing less had it been a civilian doing the shooting, we also expect that from an administrative perspective at some point in the very near future the high command of the force will address the country on this matter vis-à-vis its use-of- force policy.
We know that personnel from certain units of the force, including the Drug Squad, Special Services Unit and Special Branch, are allowed to carry their service weapons when not on duty. Do the rules relating to the handling and use of these weapons differ when personnel are off duty?
Do the very strict rules on receiving and accounting for ammunition also hold when officers are on personal time? Are there any circumstances under which they are allowed to use ammunition other than that issued by the force in these service weapons? How does the force guarantee the integrity of the process when officers are off duty.
Since we have come a long way from the time when only a handful of officers in uniform carried weapons, now would be a good time to ask how often each member of the force is required to be recertified as a competent shot. And what happens when an individual does not meet the required standard?
In the circumstances we believe the question of competence is relevant because whenever there is a police-involved shooting that results in a civilian death, members of the public always question if each time a weapon is drawn the intent has to be to “shoot to kill”. For a poor shot, aiming for a leg can result in a deadly chest wound.
Given the North American experience, it would also not be unreasonable to ask the Minister of Home Affairs and the Commissioner of Police what is their position on the across-the-board issuing of tasers to officers.
We support the force and hold firm to the position that every law-abiding Barbadian should too – our very safety depends on it. But incidents such as that which occurred at Dash Gap last Sunday can fracture trust and strain relationships if not handled efficiently and effectively.