Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Stop police in their tracks

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Glenmore Hinds, acting commissioner of police, has rejected judges' rulings that random stops and searches are unconstitutional. - File
Justice Batts ruled last year that the police had no right to stop motorists without just cause. - File
1
2

Orville Taylor, Columnist

When I am driving my car or walking going about my legal business, I hate being stopped. So, to evade the inconvenience of a being halted by a sun-baked constable with his trousers waist touching his shirt pockets, I try to avoid speeding and other traffic violations.

Of course, I cannot escape looking like a descendant of Chief Tacky, and it certainly does not help that I drive a car that is of a similar pigmentation and with dark tints. It doesn't matter how polite or attractive the policewoman is, I hate being stopped for any reason, even if it is a neighbour who might be going the same direction when I want to be alone in my own car.

Then, more irritating is the intention to search my motor vehicle for contraband, and worse, if he or even she feels the need to go nuts and search my body and pockets. Nothing will be discovered, but indignation and maybe the stiff half-eaten piece of bun that substituted for lunch. Indeed, I am very sympathetic to the hard-working men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force as they try to catch itinerant criminals, who are so efficient at mobility, they could be given the national bus company to run.

However, as was pointed out by Jamaicans for Justice attorney John Clarke last week on a television programme, one cannot disregard the law in carrying out law enforcement, however noble and honourable the intention. The law is the law and the Constitution is the supreme legislation. Amended in 2011, but retaining the original right from the 1962 version, Section 13 (2) (ii) explicitly speaks to the freedom of movement. This allows "... every person lawfully in Jamaica to move around freely throughout Jamaica ... ."

Last year, Justice David Batts made a definitive judgment in favour of a motorist who had been stopped under the Road Traffic Act, searched, and the entire encounter escalated with his arrest and allegations of physical abuse. According to Batts, an individual cannot simply be stopped arbitrarily; there must be just cause. For him, "The reasonable cause to suspect that an individual has, or is about to commit a crime, must relate to peculiar characteristics of the persons or the vehicle he is driving, or the manner in which it is operated, or to information received."

STOP-AND-FRISK FURORE

Jamaica is not alone in this issue, because in the United States, the stop-and-frisk policy of the police has raised myriad complaints, conflicts and lawsuits. With the full backing of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Police Department (NYPD) carried out 4.4 million stops between 2004 and 2012. As would be expected, the majority of them, some 80 per cent, comprised either black or other minorities.

Boasting of its success - and the Jamaican police will clearly empathise - the NYPD and Bloomberg noted that crime fell 30 per cent during the period. Furthermore, 51 per cent of the stops led to charges and convictions. Nevertheless, the strategy yielded 780 guns from 685,724 stops in 2011. Yet, despite the disproportionate attention given to the pigmented population, guns were recovered in only 1.8 per cent of the minorities stopped, as opposed to the almost four per cent of whites. How successful has it been in Jamaica?

Arising from a 2004 class-action suit, circuit judge Shira Scheindlin ruled, similarly to Batts, that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that protects against "... unreasonable searches and seizures ...", and the 14th, which outlaws discrimination.

Strangely, here in Jamrock, another case was reported here a week ago, where attorney Hadrian Christie was stopped by four police personnel, led by an inspector. Hopefully, it was not a recriminating measure because of the 'Hattitude' of the 'hatturney', but the 'spec' is a senior sub-officer and ought to have known better. He must have understood that it would have been difficult to defend the premise that a lawyer, going about his business, was the person driving a vehicle suspected of being an illegal taxi, or one that matched the description of a car involved in a crime.

Now, we know that lawyers and other officers of the court are not exempt from criminal behaviour. Indeed, lots of them are crooks, including some who have simply not been brought to justice. However, when they rob, they do not generally use a gun or other violent means. My suspicion is that the unrelenting stance of the inspector was precipitated by the stridency of the lawyer and perhaps his condescending tone.

POLICE-CITIZEN STRIFE

It is well known that the one of the legacies of the plantation system is the antagonistic relationship between the police and the public, and attorneys have a privileged position in the hierarchy. Plantation elements still survive in the USA also, where 49 per cent of all black men have been arrested (not necessarily convicted) by their 30s. Furthermore, the 'wrong' approach to this invasion of one's rights oftentimes leads to charges or other vindictive acts and even deaths of the 'suspects'.

To Christie's suit, not surprisingly, our Attorney General's Department, a respondent in the case, capitulated in court and triggered a 'consent judgment.'

Nonetheless, even more intriguing is that the US Court of Appeals recently reversed Scheindlin's decision and the status quo is again that it is lawful for the police to continue stopping and frisking. This puts the Americans on the opposite page of us.

However, this is Jamdown, and despite the arguments and justifications, the police need to pay more attention to the substance of the judgment while recognising that, as acting Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds affirmed, they do have the right to stop and frisk here, but it must be mediated by concrete factors.

A good rule of thumb is to ask Constable Drapus if he is comfortable with the idea of him being stopped 'randomly', his car dug up, and his body fondled and poked. Let's stop and frisk him for an answer.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.