KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, May 15, IWN – Three police shootings of four people, one fatally, over the past 10 days is unlikely to affect public confidence in the constabulary and police-public relations, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says.
Gonsalves expressed the opinion Tuesday at a pre-scheduled press conference about six hours after police shot and killed prisoner Anthony “Scarface” Hamilton in the vicinity of a washroom at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court.
Over the last 10 days, police have also shot and injured two revellers at the Layou carnival and a man who, they say, fled the Calliaqua Police Station during questioning.
Gonsalves, a lawyer, who is also Minister of National Security, citing the essence of the self-defence law, said that even in instances where police believe they are at risk of being injured, must “use no more force that is reasonably in the circumstances”.
“The police have to be even more careful and circumspect and, by and large, the police have been circumspect with the rules of engagement,” Gonsalves said in response to a reporter’s question.
“The job of a policeman or woman in dealing with situations of conflict is not an easy job. First of all, you must be of good material, you must have good training, and you must have good leadership (including) intermediate leadership…” Gonsalves said.
He said that police officers sometimes make errors and “in much rarer situations, they act irresponsibly in using force”.
He added that this country doesn’t have “a Jamaica or Trinidad-type police, trigger-happy, beating people…”
Gonsalves, however, said that where errors exist, they must be reduced “to an absolute minimum”.
“You hear a lot of complaints that the police, more often than not, show extraordinary restraint.
“… But where people would be concerned is where a policeman acts, clearly on the face of it, irresponsibly and illegally and are using the uniform and the badge as a cover for assault and battery and wounding, causing grievous bodily harm or whatever.
“I don’t think that the public senses that the police have gone overboard in offending the rights of citizens. What I think is important for the public to realise is that wherever there is any instance of the police acting either wrongly in terms of their judgement or clearly illegally and irresponsible, that there be avenues within the judicial system for whatever is the wrong to be righted or if there is any illegality, that it would be dealt with under the due process of the law,” the Prime Minister further said.
He said that over the past few years, the Director of Public Prosecution and the Commissioner of Police have not sought to “cover up” police wrongdoing and have charged officers with offences or suspended them.
Gonsalves, however, said that he knows that in some communities, some residents feel that the police target them.
“That really is not the business of the police,” Gonsalves said, adding that the leadership of the constabulary is “sensitive to those concerns” and try to get “some balance” even as they try to avert crime.
“But I don’t think, honestly, that people believe that the police in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are brutes who are out of control,” Gonsalves said, adding that persons who know otherwise can educate him.