The video that began circulating widely on Thursday of police trying to restrain two men entering an event at the Queen’s Park Savannah did the officers and their units no favours.
A robust effort at control, which included using pepper spray, quickly descended to vicious pique and petulance after one officer kicked a man on the ground twice in the head. There is no doubt that police must respond quickly and decisively in violent situations, and there were aspects of the incident that are good examples of non-lethal control. But officers need to proceed with the understanding that they are likely to be filmed, and if they give way to impulses to overreact, on most occasions it is very likely that the public will become aware of any excessive use of force, any unprovoked, unjustified violence. Their actions in the heat of the moment will be subject to endless replays and pauses, every move analysed.
This is particularly significant at a time when the police regularly ask the public for co-operation in dealing with crime, which requires a high level of public trust. Images like these can only undermine such trust.
It’s also notable that the first statement from the police suggested the men were suspected of breaking into vehicles. What the video captured was a response to unruly and disorderly behaviour commensurate with an open-air soca party under way for more than three hours.
After an initial show of unconditional support for the officers involved, on Friday, Asst Supt Avalon Frank of the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) acknowledged, “It is not right for you to kick someone to the back of the head.”
The incident is now the subject of separate investigations by the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
The officers of the Inter-Agency Task Force involved may have been following a use-of-force policy, but that guidance surely allows for interpretation appropriate to the situation and the overarching principle of public safety.
In explaining the role of the GEB, Mr Frank vacillated between describing the unit as being “loving” and being “pitbulls.” There is considerable distance between those two approaches.
Managing conflict is not easy for anyone, but for the seven officers who responded to control two men in the grey dawn of an early morning last week, an emotional response overreached the physical requirements.
Beyond the analysis of the situation that the PSB and PCA will bring to the investigation, all branches of the police and related security forces must review their processes and procedures to guide their officers to manage conflict without descending into destructive dysfunction and needless violence.