Royal Bahamas Police Force in the crossfire

February 16, 2018

“It is counter intuitive to believe but by placing the Royal Bahamas Police Force in the crossfire” we are worsening the cross fire!”

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas at Article 15 reads amongst other things that “every person in the Bahamas is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual” irrespective of race, origin, political opinions, color, creed or sex. Those rights include the right to liberty, security of the person, protection of the law, the freedoms of; expression, assembly, association, privacy and of the right to life. Article 16 reads in part that no person shall be deprived of his life ;save in the execution of a lawful sentence imposed by a lawful court ,or a deprivation of life, if death occurs in such circumstances as are permitted by law . Specifically that latter reference to force must be used in circumstances to defend persons from violence, to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escapes from lawful custody OR, finally, to stop, deter the commission a criminal offense. Exhaustive as Article 16 appears it is the subject of great debate. In recent weeks we have witnessed an increase in the number of shootings committed by the Police purportedly while they were executing their duties. The work of the Police Force is difficult .The news reports vary but they speak to at least multiple incidences, of the Police having to take or taking the lives of young men on the streets of New Providence. As of February 12, 2018 this last police shooting is reported as being the fifth person killed by Police this year and the tenth since November of last year .Other reliable reports indicate that as many as 11 persons were killed in police involved shootings last year .Social media is a buzz as to the potential reasons for this up tick in police shootings. Why is this issue so important?

The first observation to be made of this last shooting is the headline which was emblazoned across the front pages of the Tribune February 12 and we quote, “Dealer” dies in police gun battle”. It was an amazing headline having regard for its arbitrary finding of fact and its” reporting “by an eminent news medium. We must assume that that reporting was obtained by some “official fact finding mechanism” and it was certainly not the mere finding of alleged contraband in the vehicle of the young man who was killed which motivated the headline. The Rule of Law makes very clear that an accused is innocent until he is proven to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. There must therefore be a finding of fact in a competent court before we can attach the moniker of “Dealer” to anyone. This is a moniker which is unknown to Bahamian Law. Known to Bahamian Law under the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Act is the term “trafficker” in dangerous drugs. It is however a legal term of Art which can only be imposed AFTER a trial and after a finding of guilt in the Magistrate or Supreme Court but not after a shooting, lawful or otherwise, on the streets of New Providence.

The scourge of crime threatens the very lifeblood of our nascent Democracy. In the name of fighting this crime, which most experts agree is borne of an internecine conflict of “drug gangsters” on our streets, we most remain close to certain truths which are self evident. The paramount truth among them is that after 30 plus years of drug war warfare and aggressive policing there must be a better way to interdict crime in our little nation. The unintended consequence of this heavy handed policing method is perhaps unintended death; a method which has not brought peace to our streets. We support the Police for their great work but can we not extricate them from the unintended consequences of a policy which is tried tested and found to be wanting.

Halsbury Chambers

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