YUVAN A. BEEJADHUR

LEADER, EN FORCE MAURICE!

Every year we pray that we get to live in peace, happiness and security. Mrs. Sheena Rosun and her two sons, victims of domestic violence, are now safe. But it does not and should not stop here. As a society that is increasingly broken, all of us should be doing our part to fix those loopholes that have led to an escalation of no return for that little family of Henrietta.

There are many like Sheena and her late husband Bhavish, a 22-year old gardener, and victim of synthetic drugs. And many more kids witnessing fighting parents. We shouldn’t be simply applauding that end result of a police shooting. This is not a movie. We need to be careful that we are not becoming a country where there are no protocol and no trust in the system.

When violence, combined with drugs/alcohol, difficult childhoods and lack of faith in the system, attains new proportions, we wonder what/who is next? Sheena apparently gave depositions and had a protection order. Who failed in doing their job? The idea of a woman/child being beaten and sent to hospital calls for justice. Whatever the reasons that silence those victims, we need to be resolute in preventing these from recurring.

The Mauritius Police Force is celebrating its 253th anniversary. We value our national heroes, be it our doctors, nurses, farmers, teachers, firemen, policemen and so on. But when things are on a dangerous path, we need to take a step back. We have asked for massive reforms in the police because the delivery of service is sub-optimal today. 2.5% of our GDP being spent in 2019/2020 on Public Order/Safety, equaling around Rs.13 billion, whereas a paltry of Rs.467 million only was spent for Family and Children. We are still far from serious reforms in areas like recruitment/promotion/benefits/policy. Already, 40% of Mauritians, according to a 2005 survey, state they do not trust the police. Cases of negligence at the Wooton accident site, mystery of death of singer Kaya, possible torture on Iqbal Toofany, inability to resolve the Michaela McAreavey case or captured drugs being eaten by rats speak for themselves. It’s a vicious circle, with some also thinking they are above the law.

Accountability

Key to everything is accountability. This is where we are losing the battle.

Today, a dangerous precedent has been set. Police use of disproportionate force against its citizens, outside of judicial processes, especially those coming from poor backgrounds, without any proper oversight and accountability, is real. In other countries, when police are given guns when the law is weak, when the confidence is low in institutions, when corruption and big drug business are king, it has serious dangerous implications. I’m talking also from the perspective of someone who has lived in cities and countries where people own and use guns, where friends’ children have been shot at schools and where police has been found guilty of using guns excessively/manslaughter.

May be there was no other choice for the policeman but to shoot Bhavish.

But only an inquiry can clarify this. Hopefully we will get answers also on:

Was it the only option – necessary/justified/proportional? Kouma rat lipie/zepol ek tous leker/likou? Did the poor economic status of Bhavish play a role in the decision of the police – if the aggressor was from a so-called “gran-fami”, would the response have been different? Ti dimann ranfor? Was his state of being and mind known?

Citizens need REAL answers and urge the CP to disclose information. Public confidence in the system is a must for future cases.

We need to move forward on a few things:

  1. Today, we ask the Rt. Honourable Prime Minister Mr. Jugnauth to establish a High-Powered National Task Force, to be co-chaired by the Hon. President, Pradeep Roopun and the Hon. Dr. Arvin Boolell, Leader of the Opposition, to explore ways to foster deeper dynamics and relations between public safety officers and the people they protect, to mainstream procedural justice and to make necessary recommendations to Mauritius on ways the police can promote more effective prevention of crimes, including but not limited to domestic violence, while at the same time building and strengthening public trust. This task force should set the stage for a deep reform processes. This process should be done in collaboration with other Ministries such as Gender Equality/Family Welfare/Health/Interior/Finance, the Commissioner of Police, the private sector, human rights organizations, normal citizens and ex-convicts. The Task Force should also recommend on the wellness and wellbeing of our police forces, help manage their stress-levels and ensure they have the best possible working environments.
  2. External and independent investigations of incidents – in addition to those carried out by the police are a must. Let’s create a Fatal Incident Review Panel (FIRP) which would consist of sworn officers, civilians, forensic and ballistic experts, human rights organizations, as well as peer evaluators. Scotland has good experiences to share. The FIRP could also collect data on incidents especially if they involve death, so as to make this process more rigorous, transparent and push for greater oversight. It could complement the Independent Police Complaints Commission Act’s operations.

 

  1. Policemen need active dash cams/body-worn cameras (BWC) – and a law should be made to ensure that citizens can have access to these – to see what really happened. We don’t want to become like USA where a lot of people are shot excessively or for no reason.
  2. According to gunpolicy.org in an estimation in 2017, “the police in Mauritius are reported to have 11,000 firearms”. Instead, can we invest more in proper training of police who can use alternative tools/de-escalation techniques to disarm someone without shooting in vital organs or even to summon and arrest? What about obtention of consent for searches? What about usage of martial arts (krav maga, jujitsu, Tae kwon do, etc.) or taser or other diffusing techniques that have worked? Some places like Sweden, Norway, Switzerland are good at that.

 

  1. The linkages between women who are being beaten and denouncing their husbands. What if women will now be scared to denounce precisely because they don’t want their husbands killed – have we thought of this opposite effect? What options do they have?

 

  1. In line for our push for a Freedom of Information Act, as well as a Right to Information, we call for the creation of a Public Safety Open-Data portal to bring data, information and experience forward. We need to ensure we know all the possible facts – at a time when we know that in the past there have been cases that have been “étouffés”. In our country we are always tempted to play the role of doctor, weather experts, judge, etc. We do watch a lot of soap operas. That temptation is within all of us.

 

  1. What is our national policy and police policy vis-a-vis those who are violent because of synthetic drugs? Or because of mental illnesses/disorders? Do police officers benefit from counselling when they carry guns? What is the follow-up to the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking report? The Social Integration and Empowerment Act, 2016 and Protection from Domestic Violence Act, 2016 and other relevant acts need a complete review. Our police needs to be able to differentiate between mental illness and violence ; these are related primarily through the accumulation of risk factors of various types, such as historical (past violence, juvenile detention, physical abuse, parental arrest record), clinical (substance abuse, perceived threats), dispositional (age, sex, etc) and contextual (recent divorce, unemployment, victimisation) among the mentally ill (such as those living with schizophrenia, mania, alcohol abuse, organic brain syndrome, seizure disorder and personality disorders).

 

  1. Can the public know what the exact criteria are for our police to possess guns? Are they trained psychologically, technically about marksmanship, about how to take out a violent person without killing?

 

  1. The identity, record and competence of the policeman for the sake of judicious enquiries and transparency, need to be known. Also important are his psychological fitness and blood tests (to check on alcohol/substance). This isn’t creating doubt but rather making sure we do the right thing.

 

Being heroic is a fine line of saving lives, respecting law/order and the ability to get the best outcomes. Today a young father/husband was killed. Two children are fatherless. Parents are also mourning death in the family. We have given zero chance to reform. Zero chance to a second chance.

The number of examples of mismanagement and abuse of power are endless. That is why we need checks and balances.

It will be a downward spiral unless we address all of these professionally and in full transparency. Watch this space.