Official: Ombudsman’s office could handle complaints about cops
Plans for an independent complaints authority to investigate public grievances about the police could be shelved in favor of moving that role into a new ombudsman’s office, which would also be responsible for the functions of the Complaints Commissioner and Information Commissioner.
There is currently no independent forum for handling complaints about police despite amendments to the Police Law that were passed in 2010 to set up a Police Public Complaints Authority similar to the U.K. Police Complaints Commission, which is headed by an independent board of experienced criminal justice experts.
Police Commissioner David Baines said he supports the creation of such a commission, which he said would have been the ideal body to investigate recent public concerns around the hiring of a Jamaican officer, who was later convicted of murder.
But he said it would be the responsibility of government to provide the funding and get it established.
“No funds to establish it have been forthcoming. It is not for me to establish that entity. Such a body would have been the ideal entity to review what we did and why.
“It has been approved in legislation for over two years, but no action taken to progress at this time.” Peter Gough, strategic adviser to the Deputy Governor’s Office, said changes to the legislation to create a slightly different forum for handling police complaints were being considered.
He said the EY report had suggested that an ombudsman’s office could be created, to deal with FOI appeals, maladministation complaints and police complaints.
Mr. Gough said his office was awaiting a decision on that alternative from Cabinet – a move that would require changes to the Police Law, the Complaints Commissioner Law and the Freedom of Information Law – before moving ahead with establishing any entity for investigating police complaints.
Premier Alden McLaughlin declined to respond to questions on the issue from the Compass. Eric Bush, Chief Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, is currently on annual leave.
Mr. Gough said, “The recommendation is one office to deal with police complaints, maladministration and FOI appeals – one office headed by an ombudsman, with the necessary technical people under that.” He said investigating police complaints required a “different skill set” to maladministration and suggested experienced former police officers, for example, could be recruited to work under the ombudsman in the initial stages.
Officials admitted early last year that the original plan for a civilian police complaints authority, led by a three-person appointed board, was not going to be workable because of anticipated running costs of up to $1 million a year.
At the time Mr. Gough said a civilian oversight board, attached to the commission’s secretariat, was being investigated as a less costly option.
That concept, which would also have required amendments to the Police Law, now appears to have been shelved. Mr. Gough said the EY report had put a new option on the table and it was now down to Cabinet to make a policy decision on how it wanted to proceed.
He said, “We are waiting for Cabinet to decide if that is something they are going to pursue.”
Both acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers and Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams previously expressed concerns that combining their functions in a single office could ultimately lead to a merger of the two jobs.
At the time Mr. Bush said, “It was noted that some of the skill sets [between the information commissioner and complaints commissioner] are similar. As far as plans and actions being taken to merge the two, that’s a stretch.” The proposal for some sharing of resources between the two offices appears in a list of recommendations, described as “lower priority” in the EY Report and relates principally to the sharing of administrative staff.
It adds, “In conjunction with this there is also scope to develop an office and post of ombudsman to deal with areas including freedom of information appeals, maladministration complaints and police public complaints.”