Culture change for the police force
In the digital age surveillance is everywhere. Most people have cell phones with cameras and video cameras. Most businesses and many homes have security cameras.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force is adopting a practice increasingly common with police forces in developed jurisdictions. Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said in late January that police officers will be wearing body cameras within the next three to four months.
“We would have completed our RFP (request for proposals) in respect to the body cams, so that should be going to Cabinet within the next week or two and, so, hopefully we will get the green light from Cabinet to put it out,” he said.
“Certainly before the end of the first quarter in 2019, we should have a good idea as to who would be providing us with the body cam services.”
Dames said the use of the technology will aid in protecting officers and civilians. He is right. It will also cause a culture change in the force.
Our force, a developing world police agency, is known for its aggressive tactics. With cameras, officers will need to act by the book. For those wearing cameras there is a good chance they would pick up excessive force or the inappropriate use of deadly force if an officer were to make such a mistake.
The force will have to provide guidelines for the use of the cameras. Once an officer is on duty with a camera turned on he should not be allowed to disable, cover or manipulate it. Those who do should face serious discipline.
It is unclear how far the government wants to go in using forms of surveillance as a check to police power. Dashboard cameras on police cars would be a good idea, too, along with full surveillance in all parts of police stations.
Dashboard cameras would expand the range of view in the field. Full surveillance in stations would cut down on the use of force in detention and interrogations – a common complaint by those arraigned in Bahamian courts.
Our police force needs to move away from the use of physical coercion of suspects in detention and interrogations. It is a violation of citizens’ civil rights and taints evidence. Bahamian jurors often reject confessions obtained in police custody because they are suspicious of what police did to obtain them.
Dames is the most qualified minister of national security we have had. He is a former deputy commissioner who was considered for the post of commissioner. In his current role, as the policymaker, he has a chance to shape and modernize the force.
Though the prime minister made the pick, Dames was likely the one who wanted Anthony Ferguson as commissioner. Thus far, that seems to have been a good decision.
Body cams, dashboard cams and full surveillance in stations would make officers evolve beyond the worst tactics when suspects are in their presence or in detention. That’s a good thing. Police can investigate, serve and protect without brutalization.
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