After many years of recommendations, national discussions and official promises, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) finally introduced a pilot project on body cameras for its officers in July 2017. At the launch of the pilot project, then acting police commissioner Stephen Williams listed the benefits of the technology, most related to greater transparency in policing and the bonus, celebrated by Mr Williams, of crime-solving.
More than two years and one substantive police commissioner later, the technology is yet to be implemented service-wide. Meanwhile, more and more circumstances arise involving police interaction with the public that could potentially be resolved by the video footage gathered from those devices.
The recent police killing of Santa Cruz residents Rochyon King Ashterman, 19, and Kristan Kerry Serries, 29, is one such instance in which the exercise of ascertaining truth could have been considerably aided had those devices been implemented and operationalised. Two citizens are dead at the hands of the TTPS SORT unit. Their families and the country deserve an independent, evidence-based account of what transpired and in particular where causation resides.
Responsibility for accounting to the population falls to the TTPS, the Police Complaints Authority and coroner’s inquest proceedings, if triggered. None of those processes is sufficiently prompt as to inform improvements, where necessary and in short order, that could save lives on one hand and protect the reputation of police officers on the other. Cameras worn by police officers and installed on police vehicles will not be a panacea for all police-involved shootings but they are technological aids, long in use in other jurisdictions, which provide indisputable evidence of circumstances that result in injury and/or death of both police officers and/or members of the public.
The delay in widespread implementation is inexplicable. Since the July 2017 launch of the pilot phase, more recent promises have been made. In November last year, just three months into his tenure, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith was reported as saying that tenders for the provision of new body cams and dash cams had been advertised. Tendering was necessary, he explained then, because the previous cameras could not do live feeds back to the TTPS operation command centre.
In February this year, National Security Minister Stuart Young, in answer to a question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark in Parliament, said the body-cam technology would have been rolled out throughout the TTPS by March.
It is now August, five months past the period promised by Mr Young.
Where are the cameras?