Internal disciplinary action cases against Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers that involve serious allegations should be handled by an individual or body outside of the police administration, members of the RCIPS Police Association said last week.
The association’s statements were made in response to an earlier article in the Caymanian Compass that reviewed the government’s latest plan for handling police complaints. According to the Police Law, 2010, Cayman was supposed to have an independent body set up to hear citizen complaints against the police. That has never been accomplished and now the government is seeking to form an alternate body and change certain requirements within the law.
However, neither the old plan nor the new one being contemplated allow such a citizen review board to consider complaints made by police officers against other officers or complaints from officers against the police department.
“This, the police association feels, should not be the case because in some instances – depending on the finding and severity of the conduct – the commissioner will be responsible for the internal tribunal,” the association’s statement to the Compass read. “This creates issues for the police association because our members are being denied an opportunity to fair trial which, in our view, is a breach of natural justice.
“Certain categories of complaints by police officers against another police officer[s] or against police management cannot be handled in house and need to be handled by an independent body.”
This is a tricky issue when it come to officers’ disputes with other officers. One case the association points to involves a well-publicised bust up that occurred last year between Chief Inspector Frank Owens and Police Constable Cardiff Robinson.
According to a 5 September filing in Grand Court, an attorney acting on behalf of Mr. Robinson has sought access to a prosecutor’s case file and ruling from July 2012 where the director of public prosecutions “chose not to pursue a criminal charge of assault by a senior police officer against [Mr. Robinson] and gave her reasons for doing so”. The senior police officer involved was Mr. Owens. The incident is alleged to have occurred on 15 February, 2012, outside the courthouse in George Town.
According to Mr. Robinson’s application for judicial review, a complaint file was forwarded by the police service to Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards on 26 March for legal advice.
“On or about 30 July, 2012, the director of public prosecutions advised that a criminal charge of assault was made out against [Mr.] Owens, but a decision had also been made not to proceed with a charge against him on the grounds of public interest immunity,” the judicial review application stated. “In fact, [the director of public prosecutions] recommended that the matter be handled internally by police.” In previous statements about the 15 February incident, a police spokesperson noted: “There is no suggestion that an assault took place.”
Speaking before the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in March 2012, Police Commissioner David Baines also referenced the incident.
“Certainly, from the nature of it, no assault has taken place, even though there is somebody suggesting it has taken place and yet it has hit the media,” Mr. Baines said.
Mr. Baines’ comments were made prior to the file being forwarded to Ms Richards’ office for legal advice on 26 March.
Police Association President Rudolph Gordon said this is a prime example of a case where Mr. Baines should not be the one to decide on discipline.
“The police association feels [Complaints Commissioner Nicola] Williams is highly qualified to handle the task and, if given the additional support required to properly investigate matters, will do an excellent job,” the association’s statement read.
The reasons for scuttling the initial plan for a public complaints authority under the Police Law was largely due to cost, said Peter Gough, manager of the government’s Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs. “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.”
However, Mr. Gough said the portfolio believes a similar 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. 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.