In every civilized society law and order reign supreme. The rule of law is the cornerstone or key pillar of every properly run country. Those persons therefore charged with the responsibility for enforcement of the law and whose chief role is to see to it that sacred ideals be upheld, MUST be models of discipline and self-control. While police officers are not expected to be perfect citizens with impeccable characters, since none of us are, their professional code of conduct should reflect keen attention to the principles of fairness and justice with measured responses to acts of violation, both in precept and example. And those who direct, supervise and manage them should not only be held to the same standard in terms of behavior but must ensure that there is adequate discipline and accountability among their charges. At what has now become an annual event for the police, there is an award dinner at a hotel where the police let their hair down a bit and give out accolades to themselves for the job they did over the foregoing year. This is a good idea! Reflection and evaluation By any organization are essential tools in the implementation of its goals and mission. One can only hope that the reflections and deliberations would have already occurred By the time the dinner for the police comes along and that the gala event is really for the purpose of honoring those who distinguished themselves with outstanding service to the community and in the carrying out of their important duties. In Nevis this event is usually held at the Old Manor Hotel and at this time of the year. Sometimes an outside speaker is invited to rally the troops with some inspirational message. The Premier and Commissioner are usually on hand to speak. The annual Dinner event to hand out the awards for 2009 was held three weekends ago at Old Manor. Among other distinctions, the expected ‘constable of the year award’ was given out. Tragically though, the officer on whom this award was bestowed should not have received it in my view…at least not before the completion of an investigation into an unfortunate incident! The officer may be an otherwise outstanding officer whom I am sure deserved top consideration for this coveted award. The recipient was the same officer however who during the year of his ‘award service’ shot an unarmed assailant at least twice, possibly three times if you count the initial shot in the leg reportedly following an initial confrontation. The individual allegedly accosted the officer in some kind of altercation, then ran off with a bullet wound, with this officer and another in hot pursuit. Having spoken directly to persons involved in this tragic incident, when the officer caught up with him, it was in the sheltered house of a family on Government Road, just out of Charlestown. This chosen retreat did not work as the hideout it was intended, since the officer came in after the assailant like a gang buster or a Gestapo police and finding him in a room opened fire on him with one shot, and then another, despite and in the midst of the curls and screams of the family. After receiving the first shot, he cried out for mercy, asking that he not be shot, only to receive another. The family cringed, hid and cowered while this unspeakable saga unfolded in their presence and the sanctity of their relatively small home. The pool of blood remained for them to mop up along with their shock and permanently etched memory of this horror. The young man was initially belligerent, having reportedly assaulted the officer on his hand with a piece of board that he grabbed near By in an altercation from which there are sketchy details…but he was now on the run, begging for his life, and was completely UNARMED. He wasn’t even armed with a knife. He didn’t charge at either of the two officers and/or in any way try to endanger either of their lives. No one else’s life was being threatened, except of course for the family in the house who might have nervously found their way in the path of the officer’s gun fire. Thank God no one else was hurt! The officer’s rage was unchecked, his reaction and behavior, savage. The protection and safety of the citizenry are absolutely essential objectives in the pursuit of justice and law enforcement. Citizens do not expect officers to go on a vengeance rampage with a gun into a completely innocent family’s home after someone who was obviously contained in a room and positively identified, and then open fire to prove a point. In cases such as these in other countries in which law enforcement is accountable to the public trust, there would have been at least an internal investigation and perhaps also an independent one carried out By a group set up to look at matters of this nature. There may have been an internal investigation launched but is the public aware of this or know the results? There is far too much secrecy in our police force. No one in the public seems to know what goes on about very many things. What recourse does this young man who was shot, have if any? Or do the powers reposed in the police, much like the powers reserved for the political directorate in our constitution allow them to share with us whatever they wish and whenever they choose? Was the ‘Constable of the Year’ award to this officer the appropriate response to this incident from the hierarchy of the police, BEFORE ensuring that an investigation was launched, completed and then an evaluation made of such a report? What message is being sent to this officer and to the other officers about brutality, excessive force and discipline? What is the message being sent to the community in terms of any kind of accountability whatsoever required of those charged with providing for the nation’s security? Where is the LEADERSHIP in our police force? Was the Prime Minister and the Premier aware of this incident and what has been said or done about this matter from them? Might the family have been offered psychological services By someone in authority to cope with the lingering effects of this inexplicable incident? Had the incident involved a higher profile citizen might this article have been necessary? Far too many unanswered questions for my comfort and liking! Finally, not only should there have been a proper investigation out of which the public should have been fully apprised, but the matter ought to have been handled very differently in the first place. This is the second incident of this nature in Nevis in recent memory. A naked man at the Gingerland Primary School, who had obviously taken leave of his good senses and was definitely out of control, was shot in front of students and staff at the school to get him controlled, several years ago. There are many other ways for police officers to restrain those for whom law enforcement exists in the first place. Calling in reinforcement and physically restraining suspects once it is clear of course that there is not a weapon on board that suspect’s person are only two of many possible responses. Proper training of officers includes hand to hand combat, appropriate restraint of suspects and graduated levels of responses in light of various situations, from the use of taser guns, spraying of pepper spray or mace spray, wrestling them with proper back up obviously (the officer would have to shed his weapon to do this) and of course shooting as a last resort. Where is the training? And how in God’s name can we give kudos to a young officer who misuses the power of his gun? Is abuse of power being encouraged By political leaders both in their example as well as their looking the other way when these kind of things occur?
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