CABINET’s confirmation of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) is a welcomed formalisation of a police unit that has already been involved in a number of high-profile operations and incidents. It will hopefully go some way towards demarking clear lines of jurisdiction and accountability and acknowledges the need for law enforcement authorities to be underpinned by clear and transparent procedures.
SORT, a specialised task force used for high-risk operations and whose members are usually masked, has been in operation for months. Only a few weeks ago was it reportedly involved in a kidnapping case. But the confirmation was just one of many other measures announced at Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing. Also confirmed were: a white-collar crime unit, a gender-based violence unit, a school services unit, and a specialised investigation unit.
The rationalisation of these units will hopefully delineate clear mandates and zones of operation which can serve to clear up any misunderstanding over their functioning. In relation to SORT, Cabinet’s authorisation also sends a signal of a possibly greater role for this unit in evidence-gathering and in the overall criminal justice system.
Whatever the case, all of these units must be empowered to do work that will stand the test of time in a court of law. One hopes that Cabinet approval will be a precursor to the provision of training, goods and services and funding to the plan for the management of the Police Service by its leadership.
Given the pervasive fear of rogue units – inspired by stories surrounding the infamous Flying Squad of Randolph Burroughs – it is also important for both the executive and the Police Service, whose operations are strictly independent, to consider how best to eliminate fears of a return to the past. Legislative intervention has, in the past, been one tool of attempting to bridge this divide.
The move to enshrine SORT is not the end of the matter. Hopefully, the move will be emulated in other areas: such as giving full sanction to the use of measures such as body cameras which can be used to address evidential issues when it comes to assessing enforcement operations and the death of civilians by police action.
Recent issues in relation to bail, for which a willingness to pass new legislation has been signalled, also call for action. It makes little sense for officers to be authorised to detain criminals when such action simply results in people walking free three days later.
As we navigate these couple days ahead of the budget, it’s also worth noting the important role played by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the need for that department to be properly resourced to fulfil its constitutional mandate.
SORT is but one thing, sorting out the criminal justice system is another.