Governor put ‘in unfair position’ on police discipline

Changes to how the Royal Cayman
Islands Police Service handles disciplining its officers do not go far enough,
according to members of the opposition party.

For the first time under the
recently approved Police Bill, a three-person panel has been created to hear
appeals in instances of more minor offences involving police discipline. That
appeals advisory panel will include the chief officer of the Portfolio of
Internal and External Affairs, a justice of the peace and someone with past
experience in the “uniform services” of the Islands.

The panel will be involved only in
appeals cases and will not decide initial disciplinary matters. Also, the
appeals panel would not become involved in cases where the officer has been
fired or had his rank reduced.

The Police Bill, 2010, which will
repeal and replace the country’s former Police Law, was approved by lawmakers
on Wednesday.

Opposition Leader Kurt Tibbetts
said there were two major problems with how police discipline was being

First, he said the new bill still
gives the commissioner of police far too much power in deciding a particular
officer’s fate.

“Disciplinary issues…need to be
dealt with by a tribunal, not the commissioner sitting alone,” Mr. Tibbetts

Also, under the former Police Law,
decisions about discipline for the commissioner or deputy commissioners were
left to the governor acting alone.

In the new bill, the governor will
still make the judgment, following consultation with the advisory panel. The
commissioner or deputy commissioner may also appeal any decision made to the
Cayman Islands Grand Court.

However, Mr. Tibbetts said the
proposal still places too much emphasis on the governor, who is responsible for
appointing the police commissioner.

“It is unfair for His Excellency to
be placed in such a position,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “He has to have confidence
(in the commissioner he hired).”

In the case of disciplining
lower-ranking officers, Mr. Tibbetts said harsher punishments such as firing
are typically upheld through the police chain of command.

“The whole chain…is possibly skewed
because of what is seen to be an inherent trust,” he said, adding that the
entire disciplinary system was still being left open to too much discretion on
the part of police managers who simply don’t like someone.

Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks said
the new Police Bill is an improvement over the old with regard to discipline.
Mr. Ebanks said the former law seemed to make the assumption that “if you were
the top person enforcing the law, you never did anything wrong”.

Mr. Ebanks said the new bill gives
all officers, regardless of rank, the chance to appeal disciplinary decisions
against them. However, he said the newly created advisory panel was not given
any particular power in the hiring or firing of police officers, as was the
Judicial and Legal Services Commission with judges under the new Constitution.

“But that doesn’t mean that’s not a
direction in which we may eventually want to do,” Mr.
Ebanks said.