With eight years experience in high-profile police complaints investigation in the United Kingdom, Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams said she believes she could take on a similar role here.
However, Ms Williams said her office would need to receive appropriate funding, training and staffing to handle such a serious task – something that may not be possible given the government’s budget crunch.
Also, if they decided to go that route, lawmakers would have to rework the current Police Law, which expressly forbids the complaints commissioner’s office from having any jurisdiction related to citizen complaints against the police service.
Despite the apparent difficulties with funding and legislation, Ms Williams acknowledges there are serious potential issues with the way police complaints are being handled in the Cayman Islands.
Although the Police Law, 2010, allows for the creation of a Police Public Complaints Authority, the formation of such a complaints commission has not been announced.
Police have said their professional standards unit was handling some complaints cases, but was unable to take others because the public complaints authority has not been formed. Those cases only involved citizen complaints and not internal investigations within the police service.
“The concern that I have right now … with regard to any complaints that members of the public make about police is there is currently no independent accountability of police officers so accused,” Ms Williams said. “Certainly, the residents of the Cayman Islands deserve an independent body to deal with this matter.” Part of the problem has to do with perception, Ms Williams said. A police organisation that investigates itself will often face allegations of impropriety, even if there is no real basis for those accusations.
“An independent body would remove the appearance of bias,” she said.
The issue has come up again partly because of a private members motion filed by George Town Member of the Legislative Assembly Ellio Solomon, who wants to give the complaints commissioner broad powers in finding the truth of allegations of maladministration within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
“There are issues of maladministration that need to be investigated and I believe this is the only way this is going to be done,” Mr. Solomon said Tuesday.
Fine idea, Ms Williams said; but only if government can fund a credible citizen complaints system. “Do I think my office can take it? I have always said from late 2009 … that it was something that we would consider doing, if, and only if, we are properly resourced,” Ms Williams said. “This work … is very different than the kind of complaints OCC is currently set up to deal with.”
Between 2001 and 2004, Ms Williams served as a board member on the UK’s former Police Complaints Authority, which was disbanded in favour of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Ms Williams served as a commissioner between 2004 and 2009.
The IPCC in the UK is charged with investigating citizen complaints against police in the whole of England and Wales. It also provides recommendations and assistance to police departments in, among other areas, how to deal with the public.
She said the prior experience gives her some authority to speak on the matter of citizen complaints about the police.
“The police can only operate with the consent of the people and the support of the people,” Ms Williams said. “If the police lose public trust and confidence because a very few police officers have not behaved to the standard we would expect … it just takes a few to bring the force into disrepute.”