Ombudsman upholds 7 of 76 cop complaints

| 06/05/2019 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Photo by Dennie Warren Jr

(CNS): The Office of the Ombudsman, the independent body that oversees the investigation of complaints made against the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, examined 76 cases last year from a backlog of more than 100 complaints and several dozen new cases made during the course of the year. But just 17 of those cases were actually investigated by the office; seven complaints were upheld while ten were found to be unsupported. The remaining 59 cases were resolved informally, withdrawn or abandoned, or the ombudsman did not have jurisdiction or refused the complaint.

In the office’s first year of overseeing the police complaints process, Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston told CNS that her office had developed a good relationship with the police and that the team had met with much less resistance than might be expected.

Well aware of past perceptions in the community that the police do not take or handle  complaints seriously, that complainants are never informed of the outcome of their complaints or that officers who act wrongly are never properly held to account, she said it was important that her office told some of the stories about the work they have been doing to help address that.

Speaking to CNS just a few days before releasing the office’s first year in review, which includes a number of case summaries, Hermiston was clear that she wanted the public to learn more about what the office does because the ombudsman is now responsible for many areas, including freedom of information, whistle-blowing, complaints about the public sector and data protection.

Having taken over the supervision of police complaints, she explained the office was also working with the police to help them better handle complaints in the future and improve the customer service offered by the RCIPS.

Hermiston said that in the process of dealing with complaints, which have included the use of force by the police, the ombudsman’s office has also been helping the RCIPS establish clearly defined policies. This will help officers avoid complaints being made in the first place, but when they are, there will be a benchmark against which the complaint can be measured, she explained.

One of those policy review areas is the use of Taser guns, which was triggered after one was fired at a primary school and hit a student during an RCIPS career day. Fortunately, a doctor was attending the event and helped the child, who sustained only minor injuries and did not require treatment. The ombudsman conducted a review of the incident as well as the policies and protocols for the deployment of Tasers.

In the case summary it was recorded that the officer responsible for the handling and ultimate discharge of the Taser was trained and authorised to use the weapon but was unable to account for how a cartridge came to be attached to the taser and fired. An investigation found that the Taser policy was inadequate, with no protocols in place for the use of Tasers in a situation such as this career day.

This was of “significant concern” to the ombudsman, who made recommendations to the commissioner to carry out an assessment of policies and training relating to Tasers, and gave them six months to do the work.

As well as helping shape new policies or review existing ones and oversee complaints, the ombudsman is dealing with cases that the police themselves refer to Hermiston’s office, as was the case when an officer shot and killed a dog.

The animal was fired on while police executed a search warrant at a George Town home where they suspected there were illegal guns. The ombudsman determined that the officers were acting lawfully in the execution of the search warrant and that the discharge of a single shot was a measured response to the level of threat posed to the police.

While the RCIPS Professional Standards Unit remains the first port of call for members of the public to make a formal complaint about police, under the law the ombudsman’s office is alerted to all complaints. The office does not necessarily undertake the investigation in the first instance but it oversees and reviews it and then makes recommendations. It is also obligated to give the complainant a report on the outcome of all complaints.

Where the office takes on the actual investigation, as has been the case with some of the older complaints it inherited, Hermiston said the RCIPS had been extremely cooperative and had assisted the office, handing over everything it requested and following up on the recommendations made by the ombudsman.

Some of the cases that have been upheld found very poor and even violent conduct by officers dealing with the public. In other cases standards may have fallen short or serious mistakes made but they were not necessarily malicious.

Hermiston said that complaints can be upheld where officers thought they were being helpful, as was the case where an officer stepped into a civil dispute over missing tools. This ended with the RCIPS having to pay compensation to the complainant, who had paid the other party cash at what he thought was the direction of the police.

The officer had even drafted a written settlement agreement for the two men to sign, which the complainant had signed and paid the money. But he later reported to the ombudsman that he felt intimidated by the officer and settled because he was afraid of being arrested.

The ombudsman found that the police officer had overstepped his authority when he became involved in a matter that should have been resolved in the civil court system. In addition to disciplinary action, she recommended that the complainant receive reimbursement for the funds he had given up believing this had kept him from being arrested.

After a year working with the police, the ombudsman has found that complaints are largely about a lack of follow-up and the incivility with which people believe the police deal with them. However, with a commitment from the RCIPS management and a focus on improving customer service, Hermiston said she expects things will get even better.

“We are very pleasantly surprised by how well things are going in just one year,” she said, noting that the office would continue to hold the police to account.

See the Ombudsman’s year in review in the CNS Library

For more information about the office visit the website here

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Category: Crime, Government oversight, Police, Politics

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