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EDITORIAL - A positive from Brown's Town

Published:Thursday | December 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

If all is well, we can expect not only civility from the police, if, and when, their actions are being electronically recorded, but will welcome it.

The matter arose from the incident in Brown's Town, St Ann, when a community blogger, Errol Nisbeth, was arrested and charged, Mr Nisbeth reported, ostensibly for obstructing a policeman in the course of his duty. His crime, according to Mr Nisbeth, for which he spent several hours handcuffed to the bracket of a shelf at a police station, was to use his mobile phone to take pictures of a policeman talking with a market vendor.

The irony is that Mr Nisbeth thought he was doing a good thing: capturing a positive image of police-community relations for posting on his blog. The police, however, tend to be reflexively discomfited by such actions, believing, it appears, that they are too often caught misbehaving, and having these images paraded before the public.

But police officers who behave professionally, which should be the norm, will have no problem with Commissioner Williams' reminder that citizens do not break the law by filming the police in the public execution of their jobs. In that regard, they should also welcome the police chief's rationale for encouraging people to do it.

Said he: "It should also be noted that this type of activity is encouraged by the Police High Command, as it oftentimes is in allegations of police (mis)conduct."

SAME LOGIC

Indeed, it is that same logic why the police propose to use body cameras on some operations and why international partners are helping to finance the acquisition of these instruments. It is regularly the case that citizens, especially when people die in police operations, accuse the police of extrajudicial action. Both sides, in the absence of independent witnesses or technological aides, trade accusations.

We, therefore, hope that those body cameras are quickly acquired and put into use. But they must be appropriately managed to protect the integrity of the system. Commissioner Williams and his boss, Peter Bunting, should also seek to extend the attachment of such cameras to police patrol vehicles.

We are unable to gauge the state of relations between police and the citizens of Brown's Town in the face of the Nisbeth issue or other developments in St Ann in recent years. But we appreciate Commissioner Williams' offer of another olive branch to the community: his instruction that the matter be properly investigated and disciplinary action taken, if necessary. Further, the constabulary's bosses in St Ann must get down to the serious business of relationship-building in the parish.

Stop saying High Command

We have a suggestion for Police Commissioner Carl Williams: that he drop the use of the title of High Command for the senior officers of the constabulary who form its top-management corps. He might call them the senior management group.

Mr Williams has declared it is his intention to accelerate the transformation of the constabulary into a civilian-oriented law-enforcement agency, from the paramilitary force it has been for nearly 150 years. There is a lot of work to be done to achieve this.

Stop using the term High Command, which lends to the imagery of the decision-making group of a military force. Dropping its use would be only a small symbolic act, but it would be one signal of the direction in which Mr Williams is headed.

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