Raymond Bailey, Guest Columnist
The comments by Police Federation Chairman Raymond Wilson are a clear manifestation of the notion that police personnel in Jamaica subscribe to: that they are somehow exempted from the constraints imposed by the law on the rest of us.
This mindset is symptomatic of a belief by officers that being a police officer confers an intrinsic right to treat citizens in any manner.
Justice David Batts' ruling is not a derogation of police authority to conduct stop-and-search operations. The ruling merely corrects the long-standing breach by the police of the constitutional provisions of freedom of unhindered movement of citizens.
Either the police are not aware, or are contemptuous, of the circumstances that make such stops and searches constitutional. Constitutionality rests on there being reasonable grounds for their actions. Reasonable grounds ought to be based on the police having credible information suggesting illegal, or pending illegal, action or the behaviour of a motorist that would prompt a rational-thinking person to conclude that the motorist is a danger to himself and/or the public, e.g. speeding, improper overtaking, etc. Perhaps, also, a case for reasonableness could be made in special circumstances such as threats to national security, rioting, etc.
The police want unfettered authority to stop and search without subjecting themselves to the proper reasonableness criteria. Their definition of reasonableness is unstructured, arbitrary and largely dependent on the mood, interpretation and biases of the personnel involved. Constructs of reasonableness based on physical appearance, place of residence, mode of dress, type of vehicle being driven or the officer's mindset and biases are fraught with dangers to civil liberties and result in unfair targeting of those fitting certain descriptions or perhaps living in particular communities.
The 'right' to continue this arbitrary and unconstitutional exercise of power is the main reason why the police are baulking at Justice Batts' ruling. Police personnel must be reminded that the right to stop and search is not absolute, but is bound by, in the first instance, the constitutional provisions to freedom of movement, and, second, by the police acting reasonably as earlier explained.
INDECOM POWERS OF ARREST
It is the same mindset of being somehow above the law that is informing the complaint about the court's endorsement of INDECOM's powers of arrest. If a police officer intends to carry out his duties in full compliance with the law, what does it matter if INDECOM (or any other body) has powers of arrest?
Ordinary law-abiding citizens conduct their affairs every day, knowing that they will be arrested by the police if they run afoul of the law. Does that stop us from carrying out our legal activities? Certainly not! Why then would police officers be demotivated because of the possibility of being arrested by INDECOM? Aren't they afraid of being arrested by their own members, or are they saying to us that they know they won't be arrested by their own?
The police must understand that we support them in their actions only to the extent that such actions are lawful and just. As a responsible democracy, we must establish protocols to investigate and punish the inevitable misbehaviour of some officers, and the people, through Parliament, have chosen INDECOM as the vehicle to do so.
If we are subject to arrest by the police, why should they not be subject to the same by some independent body? Unless, of course, they are, in fact, exempt from the provisions of the law and are correct in their perception of being entitled to special treatment.
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