More than ever now, T&T needs a fully functioning Police Complaints Authority (PCA), an impartial civilian body that provides oversight for law enforcement activities.
The events that have transpired since the June 27 police-involved killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Moses Clinton and Noel Diamond in Second Caledonia, Morvant, highlight the importance of an agency that can focus on solid evidence and is not swayed by emotions or public pressure.
There was an unfortunate misstep on Monday when the PCA’s call for the suspension of the officers involved in that incident ended up in the public domain before it was communicated to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith.
That further complicates investigations into a matter already under considerable scrutiny and shrouded in claims and counterclaims about what transpired at the scene of the fatal shootings.
Getting the truth is important for the families of the men who were killed and the officers involved who were removed from active duty yesterday. All are entitled to a thorough and transparent process. That is why the PCA’s role is so important.
In the 25 years that it has been functioning, the PCA has faced challenges in its efforts to independently investigate incidents involving police officers. However, the value of its role in holding the TTPS to account cannot be questioned.
For his part, Commissioner Griffith, who makes no secret of his efforts to weed out rogue officers from the TTPS, even as he defends the men and women under his command, has said he sees the need for maintaining a good working relationship with the PCA.
He cannot be faulted when he points out that his officers constantly put their lives on the line in carrying out their duties to protect and serve citizens of this country. But when things go wrong, especially when lives are lost, public confidence in the TTPS can be eroded.
An integral part of holding police officers to account is an effective PCA. Its findings, if delivered in a timely fashion, can bring clarity and closure in cases where questions are raised about how police officers engage with the public.
In the current case, all doubts must be erased about any compromising situations that will hamper the delivery of justice to all involved. However, the agency is currently operating with hindrances because long-requested legislative amendments to improve its functionality are yet to be delivered.
The PCA’s investigators are not empowered to retrieve scientific evidence from the scenes of officer-involved shootings, have no way of ensuring that the scenes are preserved and all evidence obtained is submitted for testing. In all these critical functions, it has to rely on the TTPS and other agencies, which is why there are usually delays in completing investigations.
Unfortunately, there is no chance for change until some time after August 10. It will be up to the next government to make this a priority on its legislative agenda. But it’s high time to give the PCA the power it needs to be more effective.