Party-line vote approves police complaints process

New ombudsman to handle concerns about RCIPS

Legislation creating a process for public complaints against the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and law enforcement officers who work with that agency was approved in a party-line vote late Monday.

Eight present members of the Progressives-led administration backed the Police (Complaints by the Public) Bill, 2016, while seven members of the official and independent opposition groups opposed it.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who introduced the bill to the Legislative Assembly, said the police complaints process was created after attempts to set up a police complaints board in 2010 failed.

“For the past six years there has been no independent mechanism for dealing with public complaints against police,” Mr. Manderson.

The deputy governor estimated there were about 100 complaints filed against the RCIPS a year, of which he said about 10 were considered “serious.” The police Professional Standards Unit does field those complaints, but it is largely unknown to the public what has occurred with those matters since the police were legally unable to take any action on public complaints between 2010 and now.

Mr. Manderson said the new legislation will change all that.

“Police complaints for the very first time will be made public,” he said. “How many complaints there were, how they were resolved. [The bill] would shine a light on this very important area.”

How it works

The arbiter of public complaints against police officers (not internal police complaints) will be the newly created Office of the Ombudsman, which is also expected to be approved during the current Legislative Assembly meeting.

One of the ombudsman’s many powers will be to investigate public complaints against police, or at least to determine how best those can be adjudicated.

The bill does not change the ultimate decision-makers regarding disciplinary action against officers or whether criminal charges should be brought in a particular case. The police commissioner will decide discipline for all officers below his rank and the governor will decide on disciplinary steps against the commissioner. The director of public prosecutions would decide on charges following an ombudsman investigation that turned up evidence of a crime committed by police officers.

The bill gives the ombudsman several options in dealing with a complaint against an officer. The ombudsman may refer the complaint to the police Professional Standards Unit, appoint an “investigatory body” to review the case, or personally investigate the matter.

The bill gives the ombudsman, or a designated investigative body he or she appoints, legal power similar to that of a police chief inspector in investigating complaints, including those that allege that an officer’s action resulted in death or serious injury. The law states that complaints against a police officer should either be made at the ombudsman’s office or at a police station.

Mr. Manderson said minor complaints, those involving poor customer service by police officers, for example, would likely still be referred to the police standards unit. More serious complaints – those alleging police brutality, for example – would likely be reviewed by the ombudsman.

The legislation also gives the ombudsman, whose job will also be to handle public complaints against the government and Freedom of Information Law matters, complete independence from the elected government. However, the office is required to report to the Legislative Assembly at which time the information regarding the number of police complaints and their resolution would be made public, Mr. Manderson said.

Opposition

Although only one opposition MLA, East End’s Arden McLean, spoke against the bill Monday night, a number of opposition lawmakers are on record generally opposing the new ombudsman’s office – which will subsume the responsibilities now held by the Information Commissioner and the Complaints Commissioner.

“Where are we going to get such a human being?” Mr. McLean asked. “[To handle] all of these things. I understand through the grapevine that its [former Police] Commissioner [David] Baines.

“This position is going to be one massive undertaking. We will see who is that capable.”

Practically speaking, the ombudsman will have deputies to handle the specific responsibilities of Freedom of Information, public maladministration complaints against the government, and complaints against the police.

However, Mr. McLean has noted those responsibilities [aside from police complaints] have been handled by independent commissioners in the past and that the separate functions would lose their independence once placed under the ombudsman’s office

Government officials have said more than $200,000 will be saved per year by eliminating separate directors for each independent oversight office.

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