The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Social and Welfare Association (TTPSSWA) has said it will not support attempts by the Police Service to review the State Liability and Proceedings Act.
On Thursday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith called for a review of the act, saying lawsuits against the service have cost the state millions of dollars.
According to the head of the Police Legal Unit, Christian Chandler, the state paid more than $5 million between 2015 and 2018 alone.
However, in response, TTPSSWA president Gideon Dickson said the statements were not in keeping with best practice and with the law.
“We understand the commissioner in his bid to bring about more accountability and transparency and to appease the public in which we serve would have made the statements, we respect that, but we are not in support of the statements,” Inspector Dickson said.
“Regardless of the statements being made, the law is clear. We don’t want a situation where officers have to hesitate before they act, especially when you are faced with life-threatening issues,” he added.
According to Dickson, the vast majority of officers operate within the law, serving the public as state servants.
He said it would be unfair to remove the exemption protecting police officers, just because a small number of officers may have been negligent in the past.
“Police officers are, in fact, human beings and we will make mistakes along the way too. Similarly, our judges make mistakes. Our doctors make mistakes. Not even the politicians who make mistakes, no one uses them to say let us have them pay out of their pocket,” Dickson said.
The legal title of state servant, according to TTPSSWA Secretary Ancil Forde offers officers an exemption from personal liability for legal damages under Chapter 8:02 of the State Liability and Proceedings Act.
He said under the provision any legal action must be brought against the state via the Attorney General and not against an officer who was acting in his role as an officer.
Forde believed the Police Service would be better off looking at internal solutions.
“Is it that there’s a need for us to look at training? Is there a need for further training? Or retraining, as the case may be? Is there a need to review our standing operating procedures? These are things that put a controlled measure or improve the efficiency and efficacy officers,” he said.
The TTSSPWA secretary, however, confirmed that there are instances in which officers may be held liable in certain circumstances.
Inspector Dickson said the association supports police officers being held accountable for negligence in his private capacity which brings the service and himself into disrepute.
Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj confirmed under existing law, individual police officers can already be found liable for lawsuits involving damage to property or acts of impropriety.
“In some cases, there’s no abuse of power by the police and the court will still hold that the police officer or the state is liable, but there’s a thought known as malfeasance in public office which an individual can always go against a police officer,” the former attorney general said.
He said the court can determine whether or not, an individual’s actions were outside of their duties as a police or public officer.
Commenting on an example given by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith – where police officers crashed two new police vehicles, costing the state $800,000, but without paying a cent themselves, Maharaj said that should not be happening.
“The state should not be liable for that. As a matter of fact, the state should contend that the police officer was not acting as a servant or an agent of the state, and the law is – the court will hold not the state liable, but hold the police officer liable,” he said.
He believed that it is up to the state’s lawyers to argue for individual liability in such instances.
“I think what it really needs is an enforcement by the state of the existing law to ensure that where public or police officers act on a frolic of their own, acting outside of their police and public duties, the state should enforce the existing law to make the police officer or public officer pay,” the senior counsel said in closing.