BY ROGAN SMITH
A surefire way to get people to stop talking about police shootings, claims of brutality or anything else that puts heat on the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) is to promise an investigation. And that’s exactly what we have gotten over the years – promises of probes, but seldom any real updates on their status.
The force, when facing public backlash, is quick to announce that it is launching investigations, but is incredibly slow when it comes to revealing the findings.
Unless the media, the victims or the family members of those victims push the issue, there seems to be an unwillingness on the part of the authorities to be transparent with members of the public.
That lack of transparency is a major contributing factor to the public’s erosion of trust in the force.
And no matter how many times the media highlight these deficiencies, nothing changes.
The pattern remains the same: police are accused of brutality, the incident goes viral, there’s an outcry from the alleged victims and the media, a promise of a probe and then silence.
In August, two women in Rolleville, Exuma claimed that they were severely beaten by police during a traffic stop for a broken headlight. The horrific images that surfaced showed the women extremely bruised and bloodied.
Police in New Providence later sent a team to the island to investigate the matter.
When grilled by the media that same month, Police Commissioner, Anthony Ferguson revealed that the police had completed its investigation into the matter and said the public could “expect a decision very shortly.” It’s almost December.
In June, a former police officer, confessed in a WhatsApp voice note that he and his colleagues would often beat suspects in custody and fix reports to send innocent people to jail.
The former officer, who identified himself, was speaking to another man, whom he says used to be a police officer.
“You sent people to jail because you fixed reports. I know I did. When my partners wanted to send people to jail and they didn’t do their proper investigation, we lied to cover and people went to prison. You did it and I did it. It ain’t a single police officer today or in our history who didn’t do that,” the former policeman said on the voice note.
“You know police officers have no integrity. They lie and send people to jail all the time. You don’t do proper investigations in this country. We beat people, force the confession, go to court, lie and send them to jail.”
Police dismissed the former cop’s claims. National Security Minister, Marvin Dames said the former officer was never an investigator and lacks the credibility to discuss the investigative tactics of the police force.
I never quite understood Dames’ response. One doesn’t have to be intricately involved in an operation or an investigator to know how things are done, especially in the RBPF. Cops talk. A lot. Some of them like to brag.
As a former court reporter, I have sat in court many times and witnessed many suspects shuffling into court with blood on their shirts and bruised faces. Their lawyers quickly inform the court that their clients were beaten in custody. Hey, if it walks like a duck.
Despite Dames’ doubts, police couldn’t ignore the public’s reaction and promised an investigation into the allegations. It is unclear if police ever brought that former officer in for a conversation because nothing has been said.
This all happened in June. There has been no update since.
Last November, a police officer was caught on video slapping a non-Bahamian man accused of loitering in the downtown area. The situation escalated when the officer ordered him to leave the area. The near minute-long clip went viral and police again promised an investigation.
What is the status of that investigation? The world may never know.
Last year, a disturbing video that showed police violently restraining a bloodied, handcuffed man on Prince Charles Drive went viral on social media, prompting swift condemnation by the public and human rights activists.
At the time, Deputy Commissioner of Police Emerick Seymour reported that the matter would be investigated. But, many on social media did a collective eyeroll, noting that nothing ever comes from these investigations.
It’s hard to dismiss the public’s feelings, especially when matters concerning police brutality are often accompanied with a shoulder shrug or the obligatory promise to investigate.
Attorney Christina Galanos who has repeatedly spoken out on police brutality, said incidents like these, explain why young Bahamian men do not respect police.
“And then we wonder why some of our young men rejoice whenever a police officer is killed. Many of them have deep emotional and physical scars inflicted at the hands of the police. If an officer can be bold enough to unjustifiably slap a man in public while being recorded, just imagine the terror he would have inflicted on that young man in private,” she told a local newspaper.
“Police officers do not have the authority to slap persons for being rude. If a person’s conduct rises to a certain level, police officers can make a judgment call to arrest him or her for disorderly conduct, using obscene language, resisting arrest and/or assault of a police officer.”
Dames has promised that more emphasis would be placed on recruiting officers who respect human rights.
But, human rights watchdog, Rights Bahamas wants the government to go even further and has called for a full and independent investigation into the force’s alleged culture of beatings and torture to extract confessions.
The organization said these investigations should be conducted by experts who are completely unconnected with the police force.
Rights Bahamas says the complaints process is a “bad joke with officers allegedly investigating their own colleagues and friends with zero independent oversight.”
I have often urged my media colleagues not to allow these probes to go unaccounted for. We cannot simply move on to the next item on the agenda just because the police have promised to look into a matter. That is not how accountability works.
That being said, I applaud Eyewitness News’ team for its efforts in keeping the armed forces accountable.
Just recently, Eyewitness News reporter, Royston Jones Jr. published an article entitled, “One year later, promised probe into missing pilot yet to begin.”
Minister Dames recently said they were still awaiting the official report on the plane crash involving pilot Byron Ferguson before its probe of the incident and agencies would begin.
Following the November 8, 2018 crash, the prime minister promised a full review in light of scathing criticisms of the way the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) handled the initial search and rescue effort.
Dames says the Air Accident and Investigation Department’s (AAID) investigation is ongoing. The interim report only noted that Ferguson, several major parts of the aircraft and cargo were never recovered.
AAID’s chief investigator has confirmed that investigators are still reviewing the aircraft’s engine maintenance records and a finalized report is expected to be released in early 2020.