Police review board urged

Although the idea was proposed in legislation more than a year ago, a bill that would create a Public Complaints Authority to handle complaints made against police has never yet made it to the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

Now, the issue has drawn the attention of the person in charge of handling administrative complaints against all government entities.

‘It’s in everybody’s interest, police and citizens, to have that,’ Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams said. ‘Some of those complaints might be frivolous, a lot wouldn’t be, but everything needs to be investigated.’

Ms Williams said she was only speaking on her own behalf, as a former ombudsman in the United Kingdom that dealt with citizen complaints against police. She said the most ‘obvious’ area where there are gaps in her office’s complaints process relate to police matters.

According to the Complaints Commissioner Law (2006 Revision), certain matters that are not subject to investigation by the complaints commissioner are actions taken by or under the authority of the attorney general, police commissioner, chief immigration officer or customs collector for the purposes of investigating crime or protecting the security of the Islands.

Ms Williams said she was not advocating that the complaints commissioner’s office take on that role.

‘I am neither making a positive nor a negative case for this office dealing with police complaints,’ she said. ‘But in any other advanced jurisdiction of which the Cayman Islands is one, you would have a body with independent oversight of police complaints.’

‘I’m not speaking for the (police) commissioner, but I would be very surprised if he would disagree with that.’

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service audited its complaints and discipline department last year, and partly as a result of that review, proposals appeared in the Police Bill (2008) for the public complaints authority.

Former Acting Police Commissioner David George said at the time that he was ‘quite comfortable’ with the professional ability of the officers who worked in the complaints and discipline unit.

‘But, for me, the beginning and end of any investigation is the credibility it has to those who would make the complaint,’ Mr. George said at the time.

The three person authority created by the Police Bill (2008) would essentially have the same investigative powers as police officers, but precludes serving officers and police officers who have left the RCIPS within the past seven years from serving on the authority.

Legislative Assembly members as well as those who have been political candidates within seven years of their appointment date would also not be eligible to serve.

The authority, as proposed under the bill, would not have the power to discipline officers directly if any wrong-doing was found to have occurred. All information in such cases would be required to be passed to the attorney general’s office for review.

Although the current complaints commissioner has not opined on whether the office should be given greater powers to look into police-related matters, her predecessor, local attorney John Epp, has often stated his support for a ‘wide scope’ being given to the complaints commissioner’s office in its investigations.

In a recent interview with the Caymanian Compass, Mr. Epp pointed to a complaints commissioner investigation of actions taken in relation to former RCIPS officer Michael Ebanks.

Mr. Ebanks, a one-time client of the Department of Children and Family Services, was murdered inside a home being used for public housing on Courts Road in June 2007. The complaints commissioner’s investigation found that a letter sent from a doctor at the Health Services Authority recommended that Mr. Ebanks be removed from that address.

That letter was sent two weeks before Mr. Ebanks was found slain. His roommate at the public housing facility was charged in the crime, but died prior to his trial.

The doctor’s letter was not opened until after Mr. Ebanks’ 1 June death.

‘This review does lend support for a wide scope being given to the complaints commissioner’s office,’ Mr. Epp said in July of this year.