Transparency and accountability in RGPF!!!

The time has come for Grenada to put more transparent and accountable mechanisms in place to handle the shooting of civilians and alleged human right abuses by law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

Two recent incidents within the past month have brought to the front-burner the need for independent minded and competent persons to review those shootings in order to reassure the public that the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) is devoid of trigger-happy elements.

A law-abiding police force is a necessity in any civilised society.

The decent persons in any country will always look to the police for protection when in danger and face threats to their lives.

But look at the scenario a little differently – if it the police who are creating fear then who is the citizen expected to turn to for help and assistance?

The functions of the Office of the Ombudsman should be broadened to allow for inquiries into justifiable complaints from citizens about incursions into their rights by law enforcement officers.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is already inundated with many legal matters and given the limited staff level it will be a trying time to handle with dispatch each and every controversial issue involving the police that is needed to be dealt with in a swift and speedy manner.

The Ombudsman can be empowered and clothed with the legal teeth as an officer of the court to investigate certain specific complaints and incidents involving the Police such as questionable shootings of civilians.

For example, an experienced attorney-at-law can be hired by the Ombudsman to look into specific cases of alleged police abuse of power, subpoena official police documents and compile a more independent-minded report for consideration by the Office of the DPP.

This process will totally remove the police force from being in direct control of the investigation  because in most cases the DPP would have to rely to a great extent on whatever investigation is carried out by the police into incidents involving themselves.

In Jamaica, there is a body called Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) that was formed in 1999 that works with  victims whose rights have been breached by members of the security forces spanning unlawful search or detention, to excessive use of force and extra-judicial killings.

JFJ is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-violent citizens’ rights action organisation advocating for state transparency, accountability and overall good governance.

The agents of the state such as members of RGPF who are given the responsibility of serving and protecting Grenadians and maintaining the rule of law should always be held to a higher standard than that of the so-called criminal elements in the society.

Legal experts and human rights advocates would always argue and quite rightfully so that the state has the primary responsibility to protect, respect, promote and fulfill human rights obligations since it  is a signatory to international human rights covenants and conventions.

Under our justice system, anyone charged with breaking or infringing upon the law should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

There is a general presumption that if someone is abused by the police then he/she is a criminal and if one is detained and/or charged by the police they are guilty and as such, are not deserving of being treated humanely.

However, citizens, who are beaten, wrongly detained, threatened and murdered by the police are victims too, and are equally deserving of protection of their rights EVEN if they have committed crimes.

The most recent police shooting at the public fete at Moonlight City at La Potrie has raised concerns about the modus operandi of the police force.

The official police release said that four persons were arrested, brought before a Magistrate’s Court and convicted for causing harm to a police officer.

However, the same release made no mention of the fact that during the incident at Moonlight City the police discharged a firearm and one civilian was injured by a bullet in the process.

THE NEW TODAY suggesting that a buffer is needed in a civilised and democratic  society like ours to guard against abuse by some law enforcement officials.

The state is the primary entity responsible for protecting the rights of  citizens and if someones lodges a complaint against another person alleging breach of his/her rights, again it the state that is the institution which is there to provide the redress.

However, when it is the state through a Police Officer  who allegedly infringes on the rights of civilians, the avenues for redress by John Public are proving much harder to access for someone seeking  fair play and justice.

It is imperative that the Office of the Ombudsman or some other body be created with influence from Civil Society to help all those who need redress when a state entity like the Police Force that is supposed to be protecting them, ends up violating their rights.

Justice must be seen to be manifestly done at all times.

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