Time for an Independent Unit to Investigate Police Crimes, Shootings

Calls for an independent agency to investigate police shootings reared its head again, shortly after police fatally shot 28-year-old Terry Emmanuel alias Five Bag, a La Croix Maingot resident.

The calls were made by Sergeants Zachary Hippolyte and Shervon Mattieu on the DBS Television programme ‘News Maker Live’.

This is not the first, second, or third time such calls have been made. Fact is, both civilians and police officers, including past police commissioners, have consistently called for investigations into police involved shootings to be conducted by an independent body, and not police officers.

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Both sides of the political divide have made such calls as well over the years, all to no avail. Why, after years of acknowledging the need for such an independent body, can we still not put such a body together? We are in 2022 and still talking about an independent body to investigate police shootings of civilians. This is bewildering. What is preventing this from happening?

Bewildering too, is an announcement by former Home Affairs and National Security Minister Hermangild Francis, offering assistance to the present Home Affairs Minister Dr Virginia Albert-Poyotte should she decide to establish an independent body to investigate police shootings of civilians.

Francis has always advocated for an independent inquiry into police shootings, even before he was a government minister, yet failed to establish such a body when he was Home Affairs and National Security Minister.

It would be nice to hear from Francis reasons why he did not, or could not have established such a body during his period as a minister.

That being said, the former minister could very well be the most informed or qualified person in the country to assist Minister Albert-Poyotte in establishing such a body, should her government decide to go ahead with the idea. After all, Francis was a former deputy police commissioner, and with the knowledge gleaned as a minister with portfolios like Home Affairs and National Security, he could steer Minister Albert – Poyotte away from all the difficulties she may encounter in establishing such a body; difficulties which perhaps prevented Francis from putting such a body in place during his tenure as a minister.

It must be said that the police use of force, if left unchecked, can easily turn to brutality, and while the country depends on the police to maintain order in the land and investigate crimes, such an order could only bear lasting fruit if police do not investigate crimes committed by police.

Of equal, or perhaps more, importance is the requirement that police involved in a shooting incident be exonerated in a timely and credible manner if there is no wrong on their part.

Saint Lucia, like every other country, would benefit from the establishment of an independent body to whom the citizenry can turn with their complaints of abuse of power.

The absence of a poll stating the percentage of Saint Lucians in favour of an independent body to investigate police crimes, shootings and other matters, should not stop government from establishing such a body. After all, the government was elected to govern rather than simply react to popular sentiment, which would, we suspect, in this case be in favour of an independent body.

A single police shooting is enough to justify the establishment of an independent body. But it is not only shootings that warrant investigation. The police are, above all, a disciplined force which must exercise its very considerable power in an accountable manner. Over to you Madam Minister.

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