Corbishley: police must build community trust
The Commissioner of Police has bolstered efforts to build stronger bonds with the community in the wake of protests around the world over the killing of George Floyd.
Stephen Corbishley said he was shocked by the “abhorrent” death of Floyd, a black man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis last week, and understood the response to it.
“On a wider level, I can understand the reaction from black communities because the death symbolises not just this incident, but many incidents of abhorrent use of force against black people and sadly deaths in cases where police are culpable,” he added.
“It also brings up wider-ranging things around social injustice and inequality, and through global media these are things that have attracted people's attention around the world.”
Although most of the protests have been peaceful, several reports have focused on the violence. According to Mr Corbishley, attention must remain on the problems that sparked the protests.
“Black communities are angry they are not being listened to, and when you are not listened to then sadly there is escalation.”
What started as peaceful protests can sometimes end up with people “taking the laws into their own hands”, he added.
“From a policing perspective, we can't have that, but that doesn't stop us from understanding the position that some people find themselves in.”
He said community buy-in was vital for a police service, and the BPS was working to build trust.
“In Bermuda trust is probably the main currency that exists.
“If the community perceives us as someone who doesn't care for them or doesn't understand their social situation, then that's a real barrier to progress.”
Mr Corbishley said the renewed focus on community policing and building relationships with the public had been one part of it, while another aspect had been removing “bad apples” from the service.
“We have had a number of officers arrested and facing court prosecution, and, from my point of view, I won't have them back in the service.
“One bad apple poisons the barrel. It damages what we can do and the confidence that people should have.
“The feedback I have had from people has been really supportive of it. It's not being done for the sake of it. It's necessary.”
Mr Corbishley said communication with the public was also vitally important — particularly in the event of protests.
“One of the things I have learnt about protests is about engaging with those involved and supporting them so they can raise their issues in a way to support their agenda that is also lawful.
“We work with people who want to protest. We should never work against them.”
Mr Corbishley said those who take part in a protest scheduled to start at noon at the Birdcage on Front Street on Sunday would be asked to wear masks and maintain social distance.
But, he added, the public had so far done a good job of policing Covid-19 precautions themselves.
“Looking out the window right now, I see people walking with masks.
“People are not walking close together, and those that do are families.
“I don't want us to be there to enforce the law. I want us to be there to support people.”
Mr Corbishley said the approach taken by officers in the case of Mr Floyd — pressing down on a suspect's neck and back with their knee — was “high risk”, something BPS officers learn specifically not to do.
“The issue of positional asphyxia — which is what Mr Floyd was subjected to — is something we train against.
“The pinning of someone down, the pressure to the neck, the pressure to the back ... history tells us all over the world that one of the most common forms of death in police contact is positional asphyxia.”
The BPS recently reminded officers of their training on how to make arrests of violent suspects according the principles of professional practice from the College of Policing in the UK, the Commissioner added.
“Officers do find themselves in situations where they do have to place hands on someone and restrain them, but it has to be done in such a way that the individual's health is protected and not put in any unnecessary risk.
“The most common tactic that we use is just effective communication with people.”
Body cameras have not only helped police to gather evidence, but also ensure officers do not abuse their authority, he said.
“We had an officer dismissed for excessive use of force because of the body camera evidence captured during his arrest of a subject.
“Body cameras are of as much value to us as they are to the community, and I am a huge supporter of them to the point where, finances allowing, I would introduce even more body cam usage.”