The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has suggested that some police officers are taking the law into their own hands in an attempt to solve crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The party also suggested that the errant police officers may be spurred on to be abusive to suspects and accused persons because of the statement by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves that police officers are not obliged to recite the Beatitudes when they confront hardened criminals.
The party said that rather than this “militaristic” approach to crime fighting it was proposing a “Smart on Crime” strategy.
The party, in a statement this week said a “collaborative and united national effort can be the only way forward to effectively combat the national crisis of crime and violence in SVG”.
The party noted last Saturday night’s shooting in Paul’s Avenue that left one dead and three injured, taking this year’s homicide count to 25.
“As more crimes are committed and the resources and expertise of the police are stretched, it would appear that members of that organisation are resorting to extrajudicial punishment to garner information from suspects.
“We do hope, however, that this is not as a result of the Minister of National Security’s pronouncement that the police are not to recite the Beatitudes to suspects.”
The NDP said that as it continues to call on the police to expedite investigations and the arrest of offenders, it would appear that the police are “caught up in their own crisis, which, if not already doing so, can distract them from their mission, as reports assail the media of extrajudicial punishment by the police in general.
“We have had reports in the past of police beatings and general abuse to the point where accused persons were hospitalised and where police officers were convicted in a court of law.”
The party said that in one incident, much to the public’s dismay, convicted officers were returned to duty as police officers.
“Now, there are accusations being levelled at the [acting] Commissioner of Police, the very head of the service, for personally beating an accused with a baton causing him severe injuries.”
Suspended Police Constable Ettian Charles, who was charged in July 2017 with burglarising the Postal Corporation, made the accusations last month.
Charles was last month charged with robbery, firearm possession and murder.
The NDP said:
“Extrajudicial punishment is against the law in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the New Democratic Party condemns any and all such actions, unreservedly.”
The party said the police “cannot, in their frustration over the increasing crime rate and their apparent inability to contain it, resort to beating and abusing the very public they are sworn to protect.
“This is a country of laws and no one individual can be judge, jury and executioner.”
The party further noted that the police chief has been accused of sexually assaulting a junior member of the force — a claim that he has denied, saying that he has acted professionally.
“While the NDP holds that each person is innocent until proven guilty, we nonetheless question the fact that while the Commissioner is being investigated he remains in office.
“It is the right thing to conduct an investigation into the accusation levelled, however, justice must not only be done it must seem to be done and while the Commissioner may undoubtedly be a man of integrity, it says little of him and the Ministry of National Security, if he remains in office during this investigation.”
The NDP said that what is also worrying is that the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas, a lawyer and former senator for Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration, in his weekly newspaper column, “asserted to the possibility of extrajudicial killings”.
The NDP said:
“To date, the public is yet to know if Mr. Thomas was asked to produce the evidence to support this accusation and further if an investigation was launched to determine the veracity of that accusation. Contrary to established standards, the Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of Police have not made a public statement with regards to such an egregious statement that has the potential to negatively impact this country’s international standing.
“The reality today is that the Minister of National Security is yet to come to terms with the fact that his disrespectful dismissal of the Vincentian people’s fears only serves to worsen those fears and feed the crisis that already exists. He has failed to produce the promised war on crime and the causes of crime, just as he has failed to introduce integrity legislation, to say nothing of the creation of a consultative democracy.”
The NDP said it is clear that Gonsalves and the ULP have lost touch with the reality of the Vincentian people’s lives “and cannot adequately provide the governance needed to take us out of this crisis.”
The party said as crime and violence “continue to spiral out of control under the apparent indifference” of Gonsalves, the NDP is proposing a “Smart on Crime” strategy, saying that crime cannot be policed or incarcerated away.
“We have expressed our willingness to work with the government and other organisations to address the problem, and we submit that a “Smart on Crime” approach, which requires a collaborative and united national effort can be the only way forward to effectively combat the national crisis of crime and violence in SVG.
“The present militaristic approach has failed, and it continues to alienate the police from the very citizens they have sworn to protect,” the NDP said.
It said that evidence suggests that the “militaristic strategy” has already “created a climate in which some individuals and communities are as much afraid of the police as they are of the criminals.
“‘Smart on Crime’ will see the police applying research and best practices in developing appropriate crime fighting and prevention strategies and leading a crime prevention coalition which will include all sectors of society; drawing on the resources of civil society, communities and the business sector as they become integrated into a national crime prevention and crime fighting partnership to create a better SVG for all.”
The NDP again implored anyone with information that might assist the police in their investigations to provide it to the police.
“We call on the police to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, and resolve other unsolved violent crimes in our country, and to respect and protect the rights of Vincentians as they do so.
“We call on the Vincentian people to be strong and resolute in this time of crisis, hold fast to your foundational Christian beliefs; do not lose hope in humanity and yourselves as a people. Remember there is always a calm after the storm,” the party said.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Gonsalves said the NDP must choose between criminals and peace-loving residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.