POLICE OFFICERS who commit assault and battery on members of the public are making taxpayers pay a heavy price. According to figures provided by the Supreme Court this week, over the last decade the State has been ordered to pay $3.5 million in legal damages to people like Darrell Wade, who was beaten in a holding cell at a magistrates’ court in December 2009, and Jason Superville, who was beaten after he was arrested in December 2010. That’s unacceptable.
Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the two men, the court noted, even more distressingly, that there appears to be no correlation between the award of exemplary damages and deterrence. Exemplary damages are meant to be punitive, to make an example out of people who are found to have done gravely wrong acts, to warn members of society that there will be a price to pay for certain types of conduct. They are not working.
“It is clear the awards have not achieved their purpose,” said Justice of Appeal Judith Jones. “That the awards do not seem to be a deterrent is not surprising since these are awards paid by the State and not the offenders.”
And the cases of police abuse keep on happening. For the period under review, there were 69 cases in which the State was found liable for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.
What is even more alarming, however, is the fact that not only do taxpayers pay for the misconduct of police officers, but these officers themselves face no penalty for their actions. Despite the orders of the court, these officers are, in effect, a class untouchable.
“To date, as far as we are aware, there has been no attempt by the State to have the offenders penalised for the breaches of the law committed by them,” Jones said. “Neither will the awards have such an effect until steps are taken by the State to make these offenders personally liable by way of disciplinary procedures.”
There is no doubt there are many hard-working women and men in the Police Service who are a credit to it. There is also no doubt that under duress officers are often asked to make difficult, split-second decisions. But when a court of law, reviewing the facts of a case, concludes that an officer has acted maliciously, there can be no justification for slapping that officer on the wrist.
We endorse the court’s view and go further.
Not only should officers face disciplinary proceedings for misconduct from bodies such as the Professional Standards Bureau, the Police Complaints Authority and the Police Service Commission, but contracts of employment should make officers liable to contribute to the payment of damages if they are responsible. In other words, bad cops should pay the price for their actions.