Ombudsman to review police complaints

Whoever is appointed as Cayman’s new ombudsman will already have dozens, possibly hundreds, of cases to review on the first day in office.

It is estimated that hundreds of public complaints against the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service which have been filed since 2010 will have to be reviewed by the new ombudsman since no one has been legally allowed to hear those cases.

The issue involves the failure of the government to follow amendments to the Police Law in 2010, which called for the appointment of the territory’s first police public complaints commission.

The commission was never appointed, largely due to funding and staffing difficulties. The RCIPS could still hear internal complaints filed by its own officers, but the police Professional Standards Unit no longer had any legal power to hear public complaints once the Police Law was changed.

Since the public commission was never appointed, it did not hear any of the complaints either.

According to RCIPS spokeswoman Jacqueline Carpenter, the complaints have not been discarded or forgotten about.

Since the law changed, Ms. Carpenter said, the police Professional Standards Unit has received complaints and preserved the evidence from those complaints, to the extent it could.

“There’s no time limit on [police] disciplinary matters,” Ms. Carpenter said.

Some of the complaints filed with the Professional Standards Unit were able to be resolved between the parties, she said, but that is only in cases where the person complaining about the police agreed with the settlement suggested.

The RCIPS acknowledged that the passage of time can serve to deteriorate evidence in such cases and, in certain instances, the officers who were the subjects of complaints may no longer work with the department.

Rather than appointing a citizen complaints body to hear public complaints against police, legislation approved by the Legislative Assembly nominated the ombudsman’s office as the arbiter of those disputes. This is an important step, according to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who spoke about the changes last week.

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

The deputy governor estimated there were about 100 complaints a year filed against the RCIPS, of which he said about 10 were considered “serious.”

The Police (Complaints by the Public) Law, 2016, 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.

However, the legislation 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.

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