Police Discipline

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Press March '99

Force Discipline

for information about the discipline code and police moral, please click here

An officer is warned, from the moment he arrives, that there exists an oppressive regime in the force; there is a 'them and us' attitude between the lower ranks (police constable and sergeant) and the senior Officers (Inspector and above).  Discipline is used not so much to ensure conformity but for aspiring officers and Officers to demonstrate their insistence on procedures and the discipline code being followed to the letter.

It is one thing to be punished for a 'crime' you have committed, it is quite another to be the subject of oppressive conduct, the target of a vindictive mind.  There are those who willingly manipulate events to ensure a complaint can be submitted.  How better to curry favour with the powers that be than to bring to the attention of senior Officers your ability to interpret the discipline code and apply it.

But make a complaint against a senior officer, even a sergeant, and see how quickly it disappears, is not investigated, is forgotten ... you however are forever tainted!  The links to the left advise of some complaints.  Click here to read a complaint I submitted when investigating a conspiracy to import cocaine into t he island.  In reading, try to comprehend how the police officer concerned could justify his actions in his own mind; he was protecting a drug importer, why?  Because he couldn't care less that the person was profiting from the poisoning Bermudian but would rather see the man free than be convicted by a UK officer, than have the Uk officer seen as successful. 

  • UK officers are not on the island to make a difference, you simply make up the numbers.

The complaint having been made, an investigating officer is appointed (of the rank of sergeant or above), the facts are reported to a Divisional Officer (a senior Officer).   If a hearing follows the 'prosecutor' is a Senior Officer and the 'judge' is yet another Senior Officer.

A 'Kangaroo Court' is a self-constituted court, particularly one held by prisoners, vagabonds etc.

In defending fellow officers I was fortunate in some instances; the evidence was put across badly by the prosecution, the evidence was identified as being flawed or I received assistance from unexpected quarters.  The results were satisfying and for those who have a positive attitude, should have conveyed my eye for detail, interest in all matters evidential and ensured that these abilities benefited the force.

But ... given the investigation that leads up to a disciplinary hearing; interviewing witnesses, examining the facts, identifying irregularities, considering the evidence in light of the potential charges, wording the charges, presenting the file etc. to 'lose' a case in a slap in the face.

Before a matter is placed before a disciplinary tribunal it has been investigated and looked at by any number of people.  Eventually someone decides the matter must go before a 'board'.  All those associated with the investigation, having applied their expertise, logic and experience consider the evidence to warrant a hearing.

I dealt with four hearing (that I can recall) and the facts will appear on these pages.   I believe you will conclude, as I, that there exists (some of the officers mentioned continue to hold rank) an oppressive, dangerous and not particularly intelligent clique within the Bermuda Police Service. 

There is no place for such officers, they dilute the effectiveness of the service and stifle their colleagues.  They are not to be trusted.  If they can act in such an underhand manner to their fellow officers, what chance do the public serve?  Every disciplinary offence engages resources that could be put to good use elsewhere.

It was my pleasure to represent officers.  It was flattering to be asked by a fellow officer to represent them particularly as the outcome could be their dismissal.  The 'work' was interesting.  For the first time I found myself defending someone in a 'trial'.  The role of investigator was, to a certain extent, reversed.  It was certainly a learning experience and one which taught me some good lessons.  It was apparent that the good investigator was not the person who could obtain the most information, or present 'evidence' in such a way that it was convincing.  The 'knack' was to play devil's advocate.

It mattered not that you had amassed 'evidence' or 'information' which could lead a jury to decide you were guilty.  The defence only need acquire one small 'excuse', a possible explanation for the events (not supporting a criminal act) to undermine everything you had collated.  The burden of proof was always considered to be 'beyond reasonable doubt' in a disciplinary hearing (this will be dealt with later) and placing doubt in the mind of a jury was far easier than placing it the mind of police Officers, a cynical breed who had first-hand knowledge of the little 'stunts' pulled and may well have conducted themselves similarly in the past (never caught).

In my role as a defence representative, I simply looked for the alternative explanation.  It did not need to be what occurred, it simply had to be what was possible.  This was the 'what if' factor.

In defence terms, the trick was to provide an explanation for the prosecution's set of circumstances which did not amount to the commission of an offence.  This is not new to defence lawyers and Barristers, but for police officers who are often blinkered, brought up in the way of the prosecutor, this is not always a natural approach.  It is why many people who are arrested say nothing.  They are seeking time, they want to think carefully about their situation, they may wish to speak with their legal representative before answering questions.  Why?  Because any explanation given complicates the account (fabrication?) that may follow.  I am not suggesting all defence workers create stories for their clients but this is the real world, no doubt it has happened.

There is a story in England about a trial in which a police officer is accused of 'stitching-up' a prisoner (fabricating evidence against the defendant).  The defence Barrister allegedly said to the police witness giving evidence "and I put it to you officer, you verballed my client" at which point the Judge interjected and asked "I'm sorry, would you kindly explain what you mean by verballed".  Before the Barrister had a chance to reply the officer apparently said "a 'verbal' sir, is something incriminating said by a defendant which, after consultation with his solicitor, he denies".

With regard to disciplinary offences, officers (accused and accusing) do not always consider the circumstances in relation to the alternatives.   Policemen are inherently honest and being accused of dishonesty or even a misdemeanour, to many, causes a dramatic reaction (not necessarily displayed).   Officers are prepared to accept minor infringements simply to put the matter behind them and get on with their lives.  Furthermore, there is the futility of the situation; the offences alleged often come down to one person's word against another.   A junior officer, faced with an investigator, prosecutor and presiding Officer, all more senior in rank, may be intimidated but he will certainly question whether there is the slightest possibility of his account being believed above the 'competition'.

The lessons learnt were not how to be 'smart' at a disciplinary hearing or bring oneself to the attention of Senior officers, but that the sure way to secure a conviction (in my 'ordinary' duties) was to ensure there are no 'alternative scenarios'.  To the best of one's ability, remove the 'what if' factor.  

There is no substitute for experience and I am the first to admit this is what I lacked.  I stumbled through disciplinary hearings but I never entered unprepared.  The result of a disciplinary hearing had a little to do with my ability, but in the main was due to the innocence of the officer(s) concerned and the inability of the prosecution to consider the 'what if' factor.  So convinced were those in a position to complain that their word was the law and so set in their ways were the prosecutors who, with tunnel vision, clumsily gathered statements, that eventually the incompetence had to surface.

In Bermuda, the outcome of a disciplinary hearing was often believed to have been decided before the 'trial', for this reason many capitulated early, entered a plea of guilty in the hope they would be looked upon favourably and the 'sentence' reduced. 

I suggest that many of the disciplinary hearings result from complaints which, if the truth were known, or the facts explored, rather than corroborating the charges laid only endorse the offence of 'oppressive conduct' by the officer alleging the offence.

 

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