Tuesday 21 May, 2019

Law Assoc. concerned after CoP's 'attack' on lawyer

Photo courtesy the office of the Police Commissioner, via Facebook.

Photo courtesy the office of the Police Commissioner, via Facebook.

The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) said it is concerned over the Police Comissioner’s ‘over strident attack’ on critics of his methods in encouraging police officers to ‘shoot to kill’ when attacked.

In a statement issued January 8, 2019, the Association commended Police Commissioner Gary Griffith on his crime-fighting policies but cautioned against ‘sending the wrong signal’ in cases where deadly force was not needed.

LATT referred to a recent case in which a man who allegedly threw glass bottles at an off-duty police officer was shot to death.

In response to questions raised by attorney and former senator Wayne Sturge, Griffith accused Sturge of having an ‘agenda’ while calling him ‘Mr Purge’.

The Commissioner of Police is correct in asserting that the right of police officers to use deadly force in self-defence when fired upon by members of the public. He is also correct in his claim that his police officers may act pre-emptively in self-defence where such attack is imminent. A police officer who is about to be attacked does not have to wait for his assailant to strike the first blow or fire the first shot.”

“However it is important to emphasise that the law does not bestow on police officers a blanket authorisation for a shoot to kill policy.”

“The use of deadly force must always be proportionate to the threat posed to the police officer. If a police officer used no more force than is reasonable to repel an attack, such force is not unlawful and no crime is committed.”

“Shooting to death someone who points a gun at a police officer is easily defensible; shooting to kill in response to an attack with fists is more like to be held to be excessive and not sanctioned by law.”

The LATT acknowledged that officers risk their lives on a daily basis in the face of increasingly ruthless, armed criminal elements and police officers are entitled to be protected from threats to their lives, however there is a balance within the law which must be maintained, and which must be supported by the Police Commissioner.

“We are concerned that his overly strident attack on those who he perceives to be critics of his ‘one shot, one kill’ policy may have the tendency to upset the delicate balance which the law seeks to instil.

“The media recently reported that, according to the police’s own report, a member of the public was shot dead by police officers who were attacked by a group of men throwing bottles.”

“If accurate, it is not at all obvious that the shooting in this instance was no more than was reasonable to repel the attack.”

“Yet, in response to a criminal law attorney who is entitled to question the application of the ‘one shot, one kill’ policy…the Commissioner responded rather disparagingly accusing the attorney of having an agendas and looking ‘after the wellbeing of those who pay him’.

“…the Commissioner, as a public official, must be sensitive…in framing his responses to issues raised by members of the public,” the Association said.

It added that the Commissioner might be setting himself up as being unaccountable to the public ‘who must not deign to criticise his stewardship'.

“There is the further danger that he may be sending the wrong signal to his officers that their legal obligation to ensure their use of deadly force must be proportionate to the attack can be blithely ignored,” LATT said.

Griffith has repeatedly stood by his policy of using deadly force and said he supports his police officers in shooting to kill if they are attacked.

Griffith has also indicated that non-lethal weapons (tasers, pepper spray) will also be introduced soon for use in other situations such as with mentally ill persons or other cases where firearms are not involved. 

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