The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) is the police watchdog, meant to police the police; to guard the guards. Yet, serious questions remain as to the effectiveness of this authority given the current arrangements surrounding it.
These questions are heightened by last week’s announcement by the PCA that it has completed its long-standing probe into the infamous day of “Total Policing” in March 2015.
The fact remains that it is for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to initiate criminal proceedings in this country. The PCA may make recommendations for criminal charges to be laid in relation to the conduct of certain officials, but it is for the DPP to decide.
In coming to a decision, the DPP will have to review the case in full and the evidence that has been gathered. Normally a DPP will be in a position to provide advice to police during the course of an investigation as to the fulfilment of certain legal requirements. With an eye on what may unfold at a trial, the DPP can advise whether or not the elements of an offence are potentially made out in the law. The DPP cannot, however, order police.
But the Total Policing case is distinct from ordinary investigations because the Police Service, very early on, absolved itself from investigating this matter, citing deference for the PCA’s probe. That was more than two years ago.
Did the DPP advise the PCA during its probe? Will the DPP simply endorse the findings of the PCA? Or will this matter now be investigated afresh by the Police Service’s Professional Standards Bureau? Is the latter even feasible now that two years have elapsed? Time is of the essence in any probe.
In contrast to all of this uncertainty is the indelible experience of citizens on March 23, 2015.
Whether senior officials knew or not what was about to transpire, there is no question of the breakdown of the chain of command and there has been widespread condemnation of the crippling mass road-block activity which was staged amid a wage negotiation.
A key criticism has been the failure of the Police Commissioner to institute disciplinary proceedings. To this we must also ask why it has taken the PCA two years to probe this matter. Because it was necessary to record 150 statements from police officers and civilians to scrutinise hundreds of related documents, the PCA should have been given the resources needed to do this with speed. The two-year delay is a stain not only on this institution but the entire system of governance in its fullest non-partisan sense.
It is unthinkable that such a major action as represented by March 2015 could have gone undetected by any branch of the Police Service. Worse are reports of involvement by officers of the Special Branch and the criticisms of an investigating officer, ACP Vincel Edwards, of Special Branch officials during the course of his weeks-long inquiry.
It all demonstrates serious breaches in the way the police operate and are managed. We hope the PCA has gotten to the bottom of the facts.
Whatever action is now taken – assuming any disciplinary action can be taken – one key concern moving forward must be the morale of police officers, already overburdened with the crime fight. Equally, though, are the serious fears of citizens who – citing Total Policing – are weary of police abuse. How can confidence in the Police Service be bolstered? And if the Police Social and Welfare Association, which is a body mandated by law, is found to be truly wanting, how can that organisation revitalise itself in order to best fulfill its mandate?
These are all serious matters that will have to be addressed. One thing is clear: another two years of delay would add insult to injury.