Who watches the watchmen? The recent death of Mr Iqbal Toofany has raised serious questions regarding police brutality. It doesn’t help the police that ICAC published a report where currently in Mauritius, the police force is viewed as the most corrupt institution.
During this past month, there has been a rise in police brutality towards patients on methadone. They have been kicked in the face, beaten, and I’m not even going to mention the language used towards them. This is not to say that police officers in general are somehow corrupt or abusive by any means. However, the existence of even some of these cases underscores the ever-present need for accountability in the actions of police officers. Perhaps the select few police officers who are abusive tend to focus too much on the ‘Force’ in police force, and thus warrant that police force is changed into police service.
A quick scan on the police force’s website, leads to their core values and code of ethics (perhaps, they should be made into cards, and stuck in their pockets, so they can read it daily?). Let’s have a look at two core values (read the rest to make up your own mind, on the quality of service offered by our police force).
The first core value we’ll have a look at is this fundamental one: Value human life, respect the dignity of every individual and render our service with courtesy and civility.
Value human life: This “value” clearly states that human life is of the utmost importance (as if this needed to be said). These very first two words set a line police officers are NOT meant to cross, unless circumstances are beyond their control.
Respect the dignity of EVERY individual – this should be self-explanatory. Every individual doesn’t exclude people who are suspects, people who use drugs and even patients on methadone. Why then are methadone patients being harassed by police officers? Daily threats, beatings, treated as less than humans… does that reflect a modern country?
Render our service with courtesy and civility – the key word here is service, police officers must remember this, they are here to serve and protect us, we are the ones who pay for their wages, we are the ones they should be accountable to. Being courteous and civil doesn’t take any superhuman effort.
Now, let’s have a look at only two of their code of ethics.
- Display self-control, tolerance, understanding, and courtesy appropriate to the circumstances in their dealings with all individuals, both outside and inside the Police Force.
- Uphold fundamental human rights, treating every person as an individual and display respect and compassion towards them.
Are we, the public, to understand that perhaps these are not explained properly to all Police recruits?
It is high time the Mauritian Government explores the introduction of body mounted cameras that has proven to reduce the use of unnecessary force by the police and also reduce complaints against the police. The appropriate use of police power is of utmost public concern and essential to a fair and functional justice system, and reliable, publicly accessible recordings would improve trust in the police force. It is also important to note that video evidence can act as an impartial account of events, which is therefore not only valuable for defendants as a check against abuses of authority by police, but also for police officers themselves because after all, video evidence is as powerful in convicting as it is in acquitting.
Modules on stigma and discrimination must be introduced in the police training manual so that police officers develop empathy and understanding for people, and show the required compassion towards the weak and vulnerable.
The very concept of transparency and accountability must be broken down and explained concisely to every new recruit. This new government has made these two words its pillars to pave the way for a modern Mauritius. Maybe we, the public, should be allowed to rate the quality of service offered by each officer we encounter, each police station we happen to visit, and the government should ensure there is a mechanism in place to review the date and use it to improve the quality of service offered.
The widespread ownership of smartphones allows ordinary bystanders to serve as civic reporters and act as guardians against violence towards the police, and towards members of the public.
The accessibility of information on the quality of services provided by other police force from other countries allows us to expect the same high quality of service from our own police force, and we should do our bit to contribute towards that.
Now more than ever, we have the power and responsibility in our hands to contribute to a fairer justice system.