In the Police Complaints Authority’s 2020-2021 annual report laid in Parliament on Monday, a list of laws needing amendment, some for years, calls into question the commitment of other authorities to the effectiveness of this one.
PCA director David West has called for the amendments so that the PCA can more effectively and thoroughly investigate cases and build better briefs for the DPP.
The Police Complaints Authority is one of three agencies to which the public can bring complaints against police officers. The other two, the Police Complaints Division and the Professional Standards Bureau, operate under the authority of the Commissioner of Police and hence, on the face of it at least, constitute, to paraphrase the words of the calypsonian the Mighty Spoiler, examples of himself policing himself.
The PCA is staffed by independent civilians, and after appointment by the President on the joint advice of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, the authority operates within its legal remit without restraint.
The PCA is thus an independent bulwark against the potential for extrajudicial action by police officers. Despite its shortcomings, some of which are no doubt attributable to its lack of capacity and resources, reports brought to the PCA have risen by seven per cent year over year.
Yet successive governments have baulked at strengthening its capacity to investigate cases and compile effective reports.
The amendments which the PCA is seeking include amendments to the Income Tax Act so that it is able to review the bank accounts of police officers, that is, those suspected of corruption or taking bribes. It is hard to see how the PCA can even begin to investigate such claims without this power.
Other amendments would allow the PCA to be proactive as an “interested party” in gathering evidence for its investigations.
Some amendments needed to make the authority’s investigations more thorough and effective have been doled out, incrementally and with disturbing sluggishness, over its 11-year history. Just three were assented to between 2020-2021.
The PCA continues to be treated as a necessary annoyance in police oversight, its recommendations to the commissioner often ignored and its capacity to capture evidence hobbled. More attention should be paid to its requests for legislative amendments.
Neither the CoP nor the DPP has any duty to report on the specific outcomes of PCA investigations, but failing to do so reinforces the impression of parallel efforts rather than an intentional dovetailing of oversight in the public’s interest. There should be greater clarity about the final outcome of cases investigated by the PCA to build greater confidence in its capacities.
And the more capacity it has to investigate fully and independently, the greater will be the trust in its utility, its disinterestedness and the findings of its investigations.