EditorialsOpinion

Police must not take public trust for granted

Appearing in our newspaper yesterday, was the story of a woman who was sexually assaulted while in custody at a police station.

A 32-year-old man, described in court as a vagrant, admitted to assaulting the 25-year-old woman at the East Street South Police Station last Thursday.

Prosecutors say Ryan Ramond Bodie, of no fixed address, sexually assaulted the woman while they shared a cell at the station on October 21.

The woman was detained on a traffic warrant and police arrested Bodie after he allegedly threatened to kill his father.

Bodie pleaded guilty before Magistrate Kendra Kelly.

The magistrate remanded Bodie to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services for a psychiatric assessment to determine his fitness to even plead to the charge.

We are simultaneously shocked that such an act could happen at a police station and saddened that a young woman in custody for a minor offense was put in a situation with a man who clearly was mentally unwell.

Such negligence is unacceptable.

The woman should consider legal action for what she endured because of what appears plainly to be delinquency on the part of police.

Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe said he found the incident astounding and vowed there would be accountability.

“The system will hold whoever is responsible to account and these things must be explained,” he told reporters yesterday.

“Firstly, it is astounding that it could happen, and secondly, if, as a detention officer, he is not honest in what he writes on the detention record, then he is even more problematic. And so none of us have any issues, any interests in defending or protecting slack people.”

We too are astounded.

There should be no safer place to be than in police custody.

However, there is a slowly festering sentiment among many average Bahamians that police are generally adversarial and belligerent.

If the police are to fully function as those who safeguard the public and investigate and prosecute crimes, then the buy-in of the public is needed.

No help to that cause if the recent video of a man said to be a plainclothes police officer choking a young woman in public.

We cannot imagine that any right-thinking police officer believes it bolsters confidence in the force to have images of an officer with his hands wrapped around the throat of a woman half his size circulating widely on social media, regardless of what the lady might or might not have done before the cameras came out.

According to Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle, a 19-year-old woman came forward yesterday to make a formal complaint and an investigation has been launched.

Trust is further eroded when we hear stories like that of Constable Courtney Hall, the officer who admitted to punching a man at a traffic stop twice in the face with such force that the man had to replace eight of his teeth.

Hall was docked seven days’ pay.

Assistant Registrar Renaldo Toote awarded damages and costs of over $80,000 that taxpayers will have to fund.

In another case, where police beat a man so severely during an unlawful arrest he also lost several of his teeth, Toote awarded the victim over $160,000.

Toote said, “there is no adequate amount of money that could be awarded to restore the public’s confidence in the police when it has been eroded by abuse”.

He ruled, “The stability of justice is eroded whenever a person’s liberties are violated by those who are sworn to protect and preserve human rights in a civil society.”

Toote added that no man is above the law and the police are “duty-bound to act fairly”.

Are there significant behavioral problems among many in this country that jeopardize the safety of law-abiding citizens who want to live their lives in peace?

Absolutely.

Do we live in a society at times beleaguered by a level of violence that would test the mettle of any person’s patience?

Without question.

Are there too many people who feel entitled to belittle police officers and make their jobs more difficult by refusing to comply with reasonable requests?

Certainly.

Of course, we realize the vast majority of police officers are honest and protect hundreds of thousands of Bahamians morning, noon and night in an operation that never stops.

 But police are meant to put fear into the hearts of criminals.

Yet, fear of the police is permeating the heart of too many Bahamians who should be afraid of criminals, not those sworn to protect them.

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