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Slow down and save lives

Speeding kills: an ambulance passes a “Stop the Madness” sign on East Broadway in this picture taken in the early 2000s (File photograph by Tamell Simons)

Bermuda recorded the 17th road fatality of the year on Christmas Day when 26-year-old Dennis Saunders was killed in a three-vehicle collision.

This equals the highest number of deaths recorded in the past 40 years. If there is another death before the end of 2021, Bermuda will have seen more people die on the roads than in any year since 1976, before crash helmets were made compulsory, seat belts were optional and there was no breathalyser.

Much has been written about this in the past, so the message now is quite simple.

Slow down and save lives.

Do not be responsible for yet another grieving family losing a loved one before their time.

Making time, or whatever other reason there is for dangerous driving, is simply not worth your life, or the guilt you will carry for the rest of your life if you are responsible for someone else’s death. Let’s all stop the madness.

Police discipline needs to improve

Last week’s report in this newspaper on police discipline should be a matter of great concern.

First, credit should be given to the Bermuda Police Service for recognising the importance of transparency in releasing the statistics, albeit at the prompting of this newspaper.

This should become standard practice, in tandem with the regular release of crime statistics. The Bermuda Police Service is given an enormous amount of trust and funding to keep the public safe. In return it has an obligation to inform the public on its performance so it can prove its effectiveness.

With regard to police discipline, at first glance it is deeply worrying that 173 officers — the equivalent of almost half of the staff of the Service — have been investigated in the past three years.

It is positive that 100 of those complaints were either resolved or found to be groundless. This suggests that people may feel too free to file complaints, possibly as a means to stymie investigations. If that’s the case, there should be some means of penalising either vexatious complainants or utterly frivolous attempts to discredit an officer.

The problem with having a high number of complaints dismissed is twofold. First it will lead to a tendency to assume that complaints that are genuine are discredited as well, both by the police and by the public. The second is that it makes the proportion of genuine complaints seem less worrying than they should be.

The fact that, as of October, 13 officers were facing criminal charges is extraordinary. As The Royal Gazette’s reporting showed, this is 3 per cent of the service. That is not acceptable when officers are sworn to uphold and enforce the law — not to allegedly break it themselves.

It should go without saying that 11 of those officers still enjoy the presumption of innocence. Two have been convicted. Still, the fact that prosecutors believe there are sufficient grounds to bring a prosecution should be worrying.

A further six officers face disciplinary proceedings but have not been charged with a crime, meaning almost 5 per cent of the service are facing serious sanctions. It would be naive to expect every single police officer to be a paragon of virtue but this level of misbehaviour should prompt the service to take a hard look at its methods of recruitment, professional development and internal discipline.

Former Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley clearly made a genuine effort to deal with some of these problems during his tenure. It must remain a mandate for his successor.

Quite simply, the service cannot expect the public to follow its directions and enforcement of the law if it is not seen to be maintaining those same standards, or indeed meeting a higher standard.

Clearly the Police Complaints Authority has a role to play in this as well. There have been suggestions that the fact that two retired senior officers sit on this panel may result in bias. There seems to be little evidence of this and it is worth noting that independent-minded officers who are familiar with the internal workings — and behaviours of their former colleagues — are worth a great deal in this situation. The selection of these former officers is key.

At the same time there seems to be a preponderance of evidence that the PCA is hindered much more by lack of resources and funding. At the very least, funding for minute taking would seem to be a minimum demand, much less support for proper and full investigations. If this authority is to be respected, it needs to be supported, and even in these straitened times this should be a priority when police budgets are set.

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Published December 28, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated December 28, 2021 at 7:58 am)

Slow down and save lives

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