The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has recorded 44 deaths in police-involved shootings. The killings have occurred in just 33 incidents PCA head David West told the T&T Guardian Thursday.
However, statistics disclosed by the T&T Police Service to Guardian Media Thursday stated that there have been 42 fatal police-involved shootings so far for 2018 thus far. In 2017 there were 46.
But Professional Standards Bureau’s Insp Sheridon Hill gave the assurance that all police-involved shootings are investigated thoroughly. Speaking on CNC3’s Morning Brew Thursday, Hill distanced police from the term “extra-judicial killings.”
“We don’t use the term extra-judicial killings in the TTPS because it implies some sort of plan, some sort of instruction to go out there and kill…that is not the case as there is a use of force policy in the TTPS that we adhere too,” Hill said.
“Every single police-involved shooting is thoroughly investigated by senior officers within the TTPS. It begins in the divisions where these shootings occur where the investigation is conducted by a First Division officer then the files goes through other seniors then it comes to us at the Professional Standards Bureau.”
Since the PSB became established in 2011 and fully functional in 2012, Hill said he has only been aware of three cases in relation to police-involved shootings. In one case, he said six officers were charged and are currently before the court and in the other two cases – one of which involves, five officers –, Hill said the Director of Public Prosecutions has already made recommendations for the matter to be dealt with in a particular way.
He assured that the PSB does not protect officers who are found to have acted illegally, adding just last week almost every day a police officer had been charged either for misbehaviour in public office, fraud or assault.
“We have prosecuted over 150 officers and every day a tribunal sits and deals with disciplinary infractions with the police officers…we also have officers who have been dismissed from the police service,” Hill said.
Asked if there was a time limit to deal with police-involved shooting investigations, Hill said no but added that the reason was that criminal investigations are so dynamic and depend on availability of evidence witnesses and getting the ballistics report from the Forensics Science Centre (FSC), which he said usually takes a while.
Earlier this week Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, in reminding the public that he began the call for the acquisition of non-lethal weapons for use within the service, said on record that in cases where a suspect fires at police officers the appropriate response is to shoot to kill.
Griffith made this statement subsequent to Tuesday’s incident in Maturita, Arima, when three people were killed during a police operation. In that incident, Teddy Singh, Tony Keron Joseph and Clace Daniel Phillip were killed by officers during a shootout at a shack located in a forested area off Dump Road. Singh, who escaped from police custody while at the Arima Magistrates’ Court on May 15, was Joseph’s brother-in-law. The relatives of Joseph and Phillip have since called for an independent investigation by the PCA.
Fixin’ T&T’s head, Kirk Waithe, who also spoke on the Morning Brew yesterday, described Griffith’s “One shot, one kill” policy as “simply dangerous.”
Waithe said the “one shot, one kill, mantra” is inconsistent with the training of police officers and with effective policing.
“We’ve been working with the police service since 2005. We take solace in the knowledge that police officers in T&T understand what policing is all about and appreciate the principle of proportional response, the principle of equal force and the principles of mitigating,” Waithe said.
“One shot, one kill is simply dangerous and not effective…as a matter of fact, we believe that consistent with that mantra, that actually put the lives of officers at greater risks. The commissioner is wrong about that and that must stop!”
Protracted probes a problem - West
Police Complaints Authority head David West says one of the major concerns about investigations into police-involved shooting incidents is that the investigators assigned by the T&T Police Service (TTPS) are close to retirement.
“So the investigations are usually protracted because files have been lost, misplaced and not reassigned,” West said.
He also said another concern is that officers who discharge weapons do not provide reports in a timely manner.
“Bodies are dragged from the scene. This compromises the scene and is inhumane. Bodies are in some cases washed before testing for gunpowder residue. There is a huge backlog at Forensic Science Centre (FSC), so testing ballistics takes a long time and no timely retrieval of CCTV footage and data is lost,” West said.
“There are no body cameras. No independent scientific record. No ID badges. Officers are wearing masks,” he added.
Reporter: Rhondor Dowlat