T&T:Hands off! – Male cops searching females

Trinidad Express:–  THE Police Complaints Authority is taking issue with the police service’s statement that male officers can lawfully search female suspects.

In a media statement issued on Thursday, PCA’s Deputy Director Michelle Solomon-Baksh said that according to TTPS standing orders, only in limited and extreme circumstances should a male officer search a female suspect.

On Wednesday at a weekly press briefing Insp Sean Sookram of the Court and Process Branch spoke on the lawfulness of the search of women by male officers.

“Standing Order 47(8) of the TTPS Standing Orders prescribes that the officer in charge of a division/branch shall ensure that female officers attached to his/her division/branch are made available to perform on a daily basis the functions mentioned therein, including participation in raids and searches which may involve women and children. It is therefore a practice and policy set out by the police themselves to have a female officer act on a daily basis. So it is only in extreme and limited circumstances that a male officer will have to search a female suspect”, the PCA stated.

“The Police Service regulations also set out specific cases where women must be searched by women and not men. Regulation 105 states that, ‘Prisoners shall be searched on arrest and also before being placed in the cells and again on being taken from the cells. At the station male prisoners shall be searched by two male officers and female prisoners by the police matron or women police officers.’ Legislation in certain cases also mandate that women be searched by women and not men. Under the Firearms Act Chap. 16:04, where a police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that any person is carrying a firearm or ammunition in a public place contrary to any of the provisions of the Act the police officer may search that person but where that person is a woman the search shall be carried out only by a female member of the Police Service, the Department of Customs and Excise, the Immigration Department or the Defence Force”.

The PCA is of the view that the Police Service has not only implemented its own rules to ensure that female officers are always present, but it also be guided by the law.

“Female suspects should not be subjected to any humiliation, inhumane or degrading treatment and searches by men should not be the usual practice. Furthermore, when a male officer searches a female suspect, an account and justification should be given for the absence of the female officer as prescribed by Standing Order 47(8)”.

 Sookram claimed that there was no law preventing male officers from searching and arresting female suspects.

He pointed out that such incidents were rare, and that female officers had been assigned to every police unit and division.

The PCA stated that in September, 2017 it advised the TTPS about several complaints that the PCA received regarding the absence of female officers during raids and searches.

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