The police professional standards unit is not currently able to process citizen complaints made against police officers and has apparently been unable to progress such complaints for some time, according to correspondence obtained by the Caymanian Compass.
A letter sent to a Cayman Islands resident who made a complaint relating to the actions of certain police officers in Bodden Town back in January 2010, was formally recorded and evidence related to the case has been preserved, according to Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Chief Inspector Harlan Powery.
However, nothing further can be done about the complaint for the time being, according to a letter sent from Mr. Powery to the resident in mid-October – some 21 months after the initial complaint was filed.
“Due to a legal challenge to the commissioner of police’s authority to inquire into any complaint arising from a member of the public against a police officer, we are unable to progress your complaint further until a determination is obtained from the Hon. Attorney General,” Mr. Powery’s letter reads.
RCIPS officials did not describe the nature of the legal challenge causing citizen complaints to be delayed.
“As the matter is subject to legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” a statement from the department read. “It should be noted that the legal challenge does not affect internal discipline matters.”
In September 2010, legislators approved changes to the Police Law that established the Police Public Complaints Authority. The general purpose of the authority is hear citizen complaints against police officers.
The authority has not been established.
The law states any findings of the public complaints authority would be reported to the police commissioner, or in cases where criminal offences may have occurred, to the director of public prosecutions.
In most cases, the police commissioner would decide on discipline based on the findings of the authority. The appointed body would have no jurisdiction over internal police discipline matters, only in cases where a private individual had made a police complaint.
The law also creates a three-person panel to hear appeals in instances of certain minor offences involving police discipline.
The 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 was to 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 or her rank reduced.
As of press time, there was no word on whether the advisory panel had been formed either. However, at the time the Police Law amendments were approved in the Legislative Assembly, opposition party lawmakers raised concerns about the revised bill.
During the LA debate, George Town MLA Kurt Tibbetts said there were two major problems with how police discipline was being handled.
First, he said the new bill still gives the commissioner of police far too much power with regard to the operations of the public complaints authority.
“Disciplinary issues … need to be dealt with by a tribunal, not the commissioner sitting alone,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
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 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.