It has for some time now been public knowledge that the police have not been faring off well in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, particularly major crimes such as murders, with the conviction rate known to be in the single digits. In a public address on Thursday, November 1, National Security Minister John Saldivar acknowledged that the police are weakest in three critical areas: intelligence gathering, prosecution and investigation.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal had previously indicated that “…the main factor affecting the conviction rate at this time is not perverse verdicts, but the inability of the prosecution, in most murder and attempted murder cases, to secure the testimony of witnesses to enable a case to be put before the jury.”

She had indicated that there were several cases which had collapsed when witnesses were put on the stand, and they simply refused to assist the prosecution.

According to Saldivar, there are also other factors: The prosecution fails, as well, because of lack of training, and that arm of police has been weakened because of “routinely transferring the more skilled prosecutors from the department” once these officers are promoted from the rank of sergeant.

He also pointed to inadequate supervision and review of case files prior to hearing, inadequate preparation and follow-up with witnesses, and resource and transportation constraints, which affect the efficiency of delivery of service.

The prosecution branch, he said, needs to be treated as a career department, in order to keep specially-trained personnel, and so current police prosecutors will be asked if they want to stay and make the job a career or if they want to return to regular police duties.

“We are determined to fix the prosecution branch,” the minister declared.

He also noted that Cabinet had recently approved the hiring of an attorney to head the prosecution branch.

Minister Saldivar acknowledged that “the public has lost faith in the justice system,” and he noted that a major problem with case resolution is the fact that witnesses recant due to intimidation, or are in some cases even murdered.

Since the police are largely unable to rely on witness testimony, they must bolster their intelligence-gathering abilities. According to the minister, the police need to rely more on intelligence investigation, and tools must be secured to enable such intelligence gathering.

The police, he said, presently have a Scenes of Crime unit, a crime information management database, a fingerprint database, cell phone and SIM card diagnostic equipment, computer forensic tools, a small network of cameras, and most recently, courtesy of the Canadians, the most advanced ballistic equipment in-country. A DNA lab is soon to be added, said Saldivar.

To gain the best from all these equipment and tools, he said, the Scenes of Crimes Lab, the Forensic Lab and Forensic Pathology will be amalgamated, and the management of this new department will be strengthened. They will no longer fall under the purview of the Commissioner of Police, Saldivar said.

He also confirmed that the Government of India will provide an advisor to the Ministry of National Security.