THE POLICE shooting of a 20-year-old resident of Beetham Gardens has once again raised tensions in the community. It has also underlined the need for the more effective use of the technology available to police in this day and age. Specifically, questions must be asked as to why body cameras, which could go a long way in preventing conflicting accounts of events, are yet to be universal within the Police Service.
The shooting death of Akile “Alkaline” Thomas should be thoroughly probed by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Professional Standards Bureau. Ultimately, the matter should also be among the factors deliberated upon when the top levels of the organisation are evaluated, whether by independent bodies like the Police Service Commission or the Police Service itself. However, these agencies would be considerably aided in their task if body cameras were available to supply evidence of what took place.
According to a 2017 study by the National Institute of Justice in the US, officers wearing cameras generated significantly fewer complaints and use-of-force reports compared to officers without cameras. Further, camera-wearing officers also made more arrests and issued more citations than their non-camera-wearing counterparts.
In addition, a cost-benefit analysis revealed savings from reduced complaints against officers, and the reduced time required to resolve such complaints, resulting in substantial cost savings for the police department.
While the impact of these cameras is still a nascent area of research, it is clear that they can provide an effective way of resolving conflicting accounts by providing evidence. Further, it is a generally accepted principle that we behave better when we know we are being watched, meaning the cameras could actually deter aggressors, whether citizens or officers.
In the case of Thomas, police have stated he was armed and that he had 45 pending charges. Residents, however, have denied both claims. The only issues that are clear are that the youth is dead following an encounter with law enforcement and that there are different versions of the facts. However, we call on all residents to live up to their promise to file formal complaints and to desist from any action that would endanger the general public or officers. The law must be allowed to take its course, or else we would be living in complete anarchy.
Since July last year, 60 body cameras were tested. Therefore, we endorse the views, expressed by High Court Judge Frank Seepersad last September, when he said, “When body cameras are available, it protects the citizens and, more particularly, it protects the Police Service whose members are always subjected to unreasonable, unfair and unjustifiable criticisms in how they engage their activities. Dire efforts have to be made because we cannot function effectively if the society, which you take an oath to protect, does not trust you.”