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Former PCA chairwoman backs calls for proper support

Former Police Complaints Authority chairwoman Michelle St Jane

A former chairwoman of the Police Complaints Authority has backed calls for the regulator to be given the support it needs to manage its caseload.

Michelle St Jane, who led the authority between 2008 and 2010 and previously raised a red flag about its inadequate resources, said it should be properly equipped to handle complaints from the public.

Dr St Jane, a former lawyer and mediator, said: “The PCA is an important part of the island’s justice system and an integral part of a just and safe society.

“A well-functioning police complaints authority is vital for both citizens and police officers, and such a body needs to be transparent and accountable.”

She added: “There’s a lot of good people trying to do the right thing, but there hasn’t been the training or support.”

Dr St Jane’s comments come after Jeffrey Elkinson, who has led the independent authority since 2012, told The Royal Gazette it was “run on a shoestring” and badly needed an independent administrator.

Mr Elkinson, a director at Conyers and an assistant justice, was quoted in Thursday’s newspaper as saying that he regretted not pressing Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, harder for proper help for the “do-it-yourself” board.

Mr Weeks did not respond directly to questions from the Gazette, but after the article was published, Mr Elkinson said there had been "some movement“ on the ”possibility of getting some independent admin support”.

A national security ministry spokesman said in an e-mail that the Government recognised the importance of the PCA, which reviews all complaints from the public about the conduct of police officers.

The spokesman wrote that administrative support had been provided to the authority on a trial basis — though the nature and duration of the trial was not provided — and the “ministry’s understanding is that the support has met” the authority’s needs.

“Few issues are resolved via the media and, as such, the ministry looks forward to discussing resource issues with the chairman,” the ministry spokesman added.

The Governor, who is responsible for appointing the members of the PCA, has not directly answered questions about its work.

Dr St Jane took over the PCA in 2008 when it had a large backlog of cases to clear.

She said: “We were concerned and committed to clearing a ten-year backlog of complaints and addressing new complaints in a timely manner.

“We created a fulsome report for 2008, 2009 and 2010 to reset the standard, show the entire picture as of that date, and to support the path forward.”

Dr St Jane added: “Our objective was to develop an impartial and fair process to air police conduct grievances in a manner that, where appropriate, would correct behaviour, policy and procedure to support the highest policing standards and community trust.”

She told the Gazette: “'We got it to a point that I was proud to hand it over.”

In her report for 2008 to 2010, Dr St Jane called the PCA a “cornerstone of democracy”.

She warned then that it was “challenged with having very limited human and financial resources” and that it needed a professional executive director and a part-time in-house investigator to meet the demands of the PCA office and uphold standards of accuracy.

”Unfortunately, throughout this period, there were grave deficits in this area that remain unresolved at the close of 2010,“ she wrote.

Mr Elkinson said the national security ministry provided limited administrative help and he dealt with most correspondence himself, but could not keep completely up to date, so some complainants may not have had closure letters.

He said no grievances had been overlooked.

Mr Elkinson shared the board’s first annual report in almost a decade, dated September 2022, showing it receives 33 complaints a year on average.

Mr Elkinson said there was fluctuation in the number annually, with a spike of 57 in 2020 perhaps being a result of the curfew and other restrictions imposed during the pandemic. In 2021, there were 19 complaints.

The BPS has about 400 officers and Mr Elkinson wrote in the report: “ … that compared to other jurisdictions, the police force in Bermuda can be regarded as comprising a body of hard-working, honest individuals who endeavour to keep peace and order in our community.”

Neither Mr Elkinson nor deputy chairwoman Charlene Scott could provide the number of complaints that have yet to be resolved, but the chairman said a board member was working on collating that figure.

He said with extra administrative help it might be possible to keep the PCA website regularly updated with anonymised details of complaints.

The PCA was allocated $21,000 in the 2023-24 government budget. The ministry spokesman said the sum was to “cover the fees paid to members of the PCA for their attendance at meetings and has historically proven to be adequate for the discharge of these functions."

Mr Weeks did not answer questions on whether he would put more resources into the board, whether the Government planned to stick to a 2017 Throne Speech pledge to improve the PCA to ensure “truly independent investigations”, and whether figures shared last month by his ministry on the number of times the board met could be incomplete or inaccurate.

Police commissioner responds

The Commissioner of Police has pledged to review the way the Bermuda Police Service refers complaints about officers to an independent oversight body.

Darrin Simons responded in a written statement to comments made by Police Complaints Authority chairman Jeffrey Elkinson about the need for better communications between the Bermuda Police Service and the regulator.

Mr Elkinson also called on the Government to provide an independent administrator to help the board.

The chairman shared with the public the PCA’s first annual report in almost a decade, which refers to changes within the BPS’s professional standards department.

Mr Simons said: “I appreciate the concerns raised regarding the resource constraints of the Police Complaints Authority.

“The PCA plays an important independent role in building public trust by investigating complaints against officers.”

The commissioner said he was committed to accountability and oversight of the BPS and was open to “reviewing processes” between the police and the PCA to “identify any undue delays or bureaucracy”.

The commissioner said: “Streamlining procedures would aid the PCA's goal of prompt resolution and closure of complaints.

“In the spirit of accountability, I reaffirm the BPS's co-operation with the PCA and commitment to upholding public confidence through transparency and integrity.

“I welcome continued dialogue and partnership to enhance independent oversight for the good of the community we serve.”

Mr Elkinson’s report, yet to be tabled in Parliament by Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, talks of “substantial structural changes” in the BPS concerning professional standards, following police conduct orders introduced in 2016.

The professional standards department now has four officers and an administrative assistant, compared with one officer and one admin assistant previously.

The department receives all complaints from the public about police officers and conducts its own inquiry into each matter, before passing a file to the PCA for approval or otherwise.

Mr Elkinson told the Gazette that communication between the police and the regulator was not as good as before and that changes within PSD had made the work of the PCA more difficult.

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