The police chief’s embarrassing posture
Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson had an embarrassing response when asked on Tuesday about reports of police brutality.
“The Bible tells parents train up a child in the way you should go,” the commissioner told reporters. “[B]y the time you reach the police force, you ain’t no child. When you reach the police force, you’re accountable. And so, what do you expect to get?”
The question put to Ferguson came as a result of videos that circulated last week, purportedly showing officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) using their batons to beat young men who attended the New Year’s Day Junkanoo Parade in Nassau.
One of the videos shows the young men being allowed to walk away after officers beat them.
In another video, police officers were shown waving batons, which they swung into a crowd outside Bank of The Bahamas on Shirley Street.
In yet another short recording outside Bank of The Bahamas, a man was writhing on the ground as an officer hit him repeatedly.
At the parade, Ferguson told the media that police had to deal with a group of “lil’ young thugs”.
At the Junkanoo parades — the largest annual public gatherings on Bay Street and side streets – police are often challenged by unruly groups in the crowd.
Officers are sent out by the hundreds to keep the peace.
These officers are armed — some with weapons, others with batons.
Their training dictates a certain course of action. They are to maintain composure, take control of situations requiring law enforcement intervention and call for backup if needed.
If they are in fear, they are permitted to use their batons; if that fear escalates and they feel their lives are threatened, they can use their firearms.
If anyone is violating the law, police are authorized to arrest and charge them. If they use force more than is necessary, they are abusing their authority.
Police officers are not empowered to exact punishment. That is the job of the courts.
That officers would engage in public beatings knowing that with today’s technology there is a high likelihood that they will be recorded is incredible and unfortunate.
Stories have circulated for decades of private as well as public police beatings.
To be sure, many Bahamians are angered by the high crime level and by the nuisance wayward young men and women create in society, but being able to see police abuse in social media videos exposes the police force to ridicule and damages already fragile police-community relations.
It could also have other impacts.
Many suspects who come before the courts have alleged that police beat “confessions” out of them.
After the videos were shared New Year’s Day, an attorney who deals with many criminal matters made a Facebook post: “Now when juries start believing all allegations of police brutality and acquitting these young men one by one, I don’t want [any] one in my inbox asking me how I could defend a guilty man. Go in the commissioner’s inbox and ask him why these officers still on the force,” she stated.
Ferguson seems to be saying that the police force needs better recruitment strategies. Perhaps he ought to pursue those and report on them.
Former Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Thompson suggests that photos of applicants be placed in newspapers and the public invited to discreetly provide any information police officials ought to consider before approving applications for new recruits.
At his press conference, Ferguson should have assured that the videos are being seriously investigated, follow through with that investigation and report the results to the public.
We know of at least one individual who formally reported being abused by police during the most recent parade.
But the public seldom hears of the outcome of such complaints.
On Tuesday, Ferguson reported to the media that there was a 38 percent decrease in the number of complaints made against officers in 2019.
He reported that there were 151 complaints last year and 245 complaints in 2018.
The public also needs a report on the outcome of investigations and the actions taken against officers found to have acted inappropriately.
This level of transparency would go a long way in deepening trust in law enforcement and encouraging more people in our communities to assist the police in their investigations.