St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan says that he is taking a hard line against law enforcement officials, such as customs, immigration and police, who use unwarranted excessive force or engage in police brutality.
Speaking during Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press conference, Duncan said that he has already placed three officers on suspension and plans to terminate the service of others.
“My point with the police is under no circumstances is the police to allow itself to be assaulted by anyone. The police are there to enforce the law. We have reached the point where there is a lot of violence going on and the police are under instructions to do its job. That does not mean that they will beat up on everybody. There will be an investigation of every use of force to determine if it is excessive or not. However when I see the story about police brutality I do not share the same sentiment,” the minister said.
Duncan said that although certain sections of society are complaining about a spike in crime, he does not necessarily share the same opinion.
“I don’t think there is a spike in crime. A spike means that you go from 10 to 20 and then it pops back down. Crime occurs every day and when you compare it from 10.10.10 to now I consider it to be a decrease because we have had more patrols, law enforcement in every aspect.”
He said that legislation regarding the instruction to law enforcement acting in the execution of the law prescribes that if their commands are not adhered to or if somebody resists arrests or becomes abusive, they have the right to use force.
“The article of law says reasonable force within the execution of their duty. My policy whenever there is use of force, there will be an investigation.”
He said that although the Police have an internal affairs division, he recognizes that it may not be as vigilant as it should. Investigations may also be done independent of the police.
“However we have a now functioning judicial affairs department that could take the lead in that, we have the National Detectives as well as the Attorney General and the local Solicitor General, Mr. Stein.”
Duncan said that within that scope, anytime force is applied, there will be an investigation as to the extent of the force. That doesn’t make the force wrong.
As the resistance or refusal to adhere increases, the force increases. The law enforcement officer who is authorized by the Minister of Justice can use a weapon. This includes not only a gun, but also a baton, pepper spray or tear gas, he added.
“We are considering the introduction of tasers.”
Duncan said that people romanticize many things in society when it comes to people who are apprehended by the police.
“The police dog is also a means of law enforcement. If a person the does not stand up but resists or tries to attack someone the police has the right under the law to use the dog. The attack dog is trained, if you don’t move and standup, they will not attack. If you try to move or run they will then bite you, they will hold on to you. They are trained to bring you down. So if somebody says they got 14 bites it is not unusual because if you stop resisting, the dog will stop biting.”
Duncan was at the time referring to the allegations of police brutality where a civilian was bitten by a police K-9 recently. The K-9 in question cost the government 8 thousand euros and Duncan says that he oversaw the dog’s final examination in November 2010.
“We are buying more attack dogs and others to detect weapons, explosives and narcotics. I am not encouraging the police nor am I condoning any violence. However we have had a case where a police was assaulted. He was struck by people when he tried to do his job, but no one is talking about that.”
The minister believes that under his administration the Police have been placed under more scrutiny than the last ten years.
He is also plans to deal with another report of misbehavior by a police officer.
“The Tantra case has not been dealt with as yet but I am not going to tolerate police officers behaving any way they want. I demand that the police do their jobs properly and that the public will respect them for doing their duty. If they can’t reach to that level or maintain that level, they will be dealt with,” he stated.