Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | Policing has psychological frontiers

Published:Saturday | July 30, 2016 | 7:00 AM

In the search for positives from that Papine, St Andrew, police incident that has been the subject of much public discussion this week, one takeaway, even by the non-cynics, may be that no one died. Indeed, no one was fired upon, unlike the schoolgirl was who was shot in the head in that recent downtown Kingston occurrence when a policeman fired on a fleeing illegal taxi - and the many similar incidents.

Throughout the incident, based on the video that made the rounds on social media, at no time during the tussle between the policeman and the woman he was attempting to subdue did the arresting officer draw his gun. In other instances, seemingly prone or easily subdued people were shot by police officers. In one case, a victim died, but the policeman was freed of wrongdoing in court.

Further, neither did the arresting officer nor, perhaps more important, other policemen at the scene, attempt to prevent the recording of incident, or to confiscate people's smartphone, as happened once at a market in Brown's Town, St Ann. In this respect, they displayed good sense. We can't make the same case on behalf of Norman Heywood, an assistant commissioner of police.

 

TRANSPARENCY IS GOOD

 

Mr Heywood has complained about bystanders video-recording such incidents rather than, he argued, encouraging people not to resist their arrest. That would be, by his logic, "standing up for law and order". On this matter, we stand with Mr Heywood, but his former boss, Owen Ellington, who, in the aftermath of the Brown's Town market incident, encouraged police officers to welcome the filming of their encounters with citizens. The point is that transparency is good. The police, if they operate in accordance with the code of conduct of law enforcement, ought to have nothing to fear. In fact, such films may well provide vindication.

Indeed, it is significant that there appears to be no conclusive position about the misconduct, or otherwise, based on the evidence of this film. Some people who might have been otherwise predisposed to presuming police excesses were, in this instance, far more measured. Moreover, it can't have been lost on the police that Hamish Campbell, the deputy head of INDECOM, the agency that investigates alleged infractions by the police, was not persuaded by what he saw that the police officer misbehaved or acted outside the law.

Of course, any such initial assessment is likely to be subject to further and more rigorous analysis, but it seems, to us, to advance the case for the urgent implementation of the use of body cameras by police personnel during their operations and for service vehicles to be fitted with such devices.

Additionally, this incident highlights the need for enhancing a critical area of police training, the psychological area of their job. There are conflicting claims about its trigger, but it seems to have to do with a verbal altercation between the policeman and the arrested woman that escalated almost out of control. The skill of de-escalating potentially troublesome circumstances, including by talking down situations, seems to be insufficiently used in the arsenal of the police.

Assistant Commissioner Heywood spoke of the responsibility not to incite situations, but that rests not only with citizens. We wonder what would have been the outcome in Papine if the arresting officer's colleagues had encouraged a softer engagement other than arrest.