OCC: ‘No independent accountability’
The Cayman Islands has not adhered to its own legislation in creating a public complaints authority to provide oversight of the local police service more than two years after the measure was passed as part of the Police Law (2010).
Last week, officials admitted the original plan for a civilian complaints authority, led by a three-person appointed board to handle complaints from the public about police services, is simply not going to be workable.
The reasons for scuttling the initial plan for a public complaints authority, according to government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs manager Peter Gough, was largely due to cost.
“With our present economic climate, we couldn’t afford to set up an authority costing $750,000 to $1 million a year based on the type of complaints we were receiving,” Mr. Gough said.
However, ideas for a civilian oversight board for the police service haven’t gone away. In fact, Mr. Gough said the portfolio believes such a body will be created “very shortly” and that legislation amending the Police Law to allow for it is expected to come to Cabinet prior to the dissolution of parliament on 26 March.
The issue has been a subject of hot debate. In recent months, it has been suggested that Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams might head up such a police complaints operation. Ms Williams, a lawyer and United Kingdom judge, who has lengthy experience evaluating and investigating public-police complaints in the UK, has expressed interest in the job.
“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 in an interview last October. “Certainly, the residents of the Cayman Islands deserve an independent body to deal with this matter.”
However, Ms Williams said she would not agree to handle police complaints matters unless her office received appropriate funding to carry out such a mandate.
Aside from not having the money, Mr. Gough said it was decided that Ms Williams, as a civil servant, might not provide the perceived independence that a private citizens board might give.
“We wanted a civilian oversight board,” Mr. Gough said.
Amendments to the Police Law that would create such a group are still in discussion. Mr. Gough said he expects the civilian oversight board – called the Public Police Complaints Commission – to have between three and five members. It will be attached to the Commissions Secretariat, the entity that manages other oversight commissions such as the Constitutional Commission, the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the Commission for Standards in Public Life and the Human Rights Commission.
The general idea, Mr. Gough said, is to resolve police complaints made by the public “at the lowest level possible” while saving the more serious complaints for the commission’s review. For the most serious cases, the commission would probably need assistance of seconded investigators from organisations such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, he said.
The commission as proposed would not handle any internal complaints filed by police officers against other police officers or police complaints against department management. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Professional Standards Unit would still handle those internal matters, Mr. Gough said.
The lack of an established Police Complaints Authority has been holding up the investigation of certain resident complaints against police officers.
According to records provided under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, the police service has not been able to resolve 19 of 42 public complaints filed against local police officers between September 2011 and February 2012.
The police service noted a year ago that the Police Law (2010 Revision) creates an authority with the jurisdiction to “hear a complaint lodged by any member of the general public in relation to the conduct of an officer”.
“Any complaint filed following the formal introduction of the law rests solely with the authority,” the police service response noted. “Until that authority is established, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service have a professional and legal obligation to record all complaints lodged and preserve any evidence until the authority becomes functional.”
There are also a number of complaints that involved ongoing criminal court proceedings. In those cases, no investigation by police or the complaints authority – if it had been formed – could proceed until the criminal case was completed. The police service noted this situation applies to nine citizen complaints cases that have not been resolved; presumably leaving 10 complaints unresolved until the formation of the Police Complaints Authority.