The Miscellaneous Provisions (Law Enforcement Officers) Bill, 2019 seeks to bring some needed course correction to worrying trends in policing and crime management.
The bill will make it a specific crime to attack a member of the Prisons, Police and Fire Services while in pursuit of their duties. But it will also introduce more severe penalties for police officers who are tempted to dishonour their commitment to the police service.
For an indictable offence, errant officers face a $500,000 fine and 15 years in jail. For a summary offence the fine is $250,000 and ten years in jail. Give a working officer a hard drink? You can face a fine of $150,000 and five years in jail.
Tempted to refuse to assist a police officer, assault or resist the process of law enforcement? The fine is $50,000 and three years in jail. Officers who don’t return all the official supplies on their resignation or dismissal face a $15,000 fine and five years.
These fines represent sharp increases in existing laws, but they also refocus the relationship between citizens and law enforcement officers to a degree that invites a more public revisiting of what’s expected of both officers and the public in the social compact that underpins a law-abiding society.
Among the stakeholders involved in these changes, a significant player in driving the importance and consequences of the provisions of the bill, should be the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which sits between members of the public who feel aggrieved by their interactions with police officers and the service itself.
In March 2018 at an outreach meeting, PCA director David West noted that between 2014 and 2015 the authority had sent ten cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions and 42 to the Commissioner of Police. Between 2015 and 2016 seven cases went to the DPP and 28 to the CoP.
A critical role of the PCA is to act as a filter for a much larger body of complaints that are either misdirected or unenforceable. The ratio between actionable and unenforceable complaints runs as high as one out of every 40 reports.
To amplify its reach, the PCA introduced a smartphone app to facilitate the filing of complaints in 2017. Within eight months, the authority had added 25 enforceable matters to its caseload through that channel alone. Last week, West noted an improved working relationship with the police service and a new “confluence of cooperation.”
Along with the new bill, which will only benefit from spirited debate and the contributions of all stakeholders, more cooperation between the PCA and the CoP will benefit committed officers working in the field and increase the confidence of the public at large in the police service.