Commissioner Michael DeSilva unveils the new Code of Conduct at yesterday's press conference. *Photo by Sirkka Huish

Commissioner Michael DeSilva unveils the new Code of Conduct at yesterday's press conference. *Photo by Sirkka Huish

Police have been prohibited from socialising with gang members because it undermines public trust. Officers risk losing their jobs unless they follow strict instructions to stay away from known criminals.

This is part of a new Code of Conduct that all police officers must abide by, while on and off duty. One of the goals is to bolster public confidence in the police. And it’s up to the public to hold officers accountable by reporting any breaches of the Code.

The crackdown comes as complaints against the police are expected to reach an all-time high this year — and amid a climate of spiralling gun crime.

Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva said: “We have specified, categorically, that business or personal relationships with known criminals and gang members will not be tolerated. We know you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.”

Mr. DeSilva said all officers had to “take this into account” even though they may have grown up or gone to school with criminals.

The Code states that members should not engage in “any business or intimate relationship” with criminals or persons of ill-repute. When in doubt, officers are asked to seek clarification from the Commissioner.

The Code also formalizes the process of disqualifying officers from investigating cases involving a relative or friend. This includes the victim and the accused to avoid “any potential conflicts of interest” and to “safeguard against any allegations of favourable treatment”.

The Code was unveiled at a press conference yesterday. It comes eight months after the Annual Policing Plan set out to improve people, partnerships, priorities and performance.

It is part of the ‘cycle of confidence’ where improved police conduct can increase the public’s support, trust and confidence.

Mr. DeSilva believes that “formal direction on the performance of officer’s duties would, over time, help to make Bermuda safer.

The Code focuses on core values of professionalism, integrity, respect, accountability, dedication, courage and unity.

Mr. DeSilva said: “…we have codified the behaviours that are expected, or prohibited in some cases, both on and off duty.

“Most of the behaviours centre around treatment of other people and the professional conduct that sits behind the services we provide to the public.

“The value of the Code extends beyond the direction it gives to police officers; members of the public should know what behaviours to expect from their police officers, and they should be assured that officers remain accountable for their actions when providing policing services.”

Mr. DeSilva said they had worked closely with the Police Complaints Authority, which deals with an average of 35 to 45 complaints a year. But so far this year 33 complaints have already been received from the public. Mr. DeSilva said: “It looks like it’s going to be higher than average”.

Mr. DeSilva said communicating with the public was the police’s “worst area of performance”. But police they were making “a huge investment” with “vigorous and mandatory training” for staff to raise standards when communicating with the public.

If the Code is breached, Mr. DeSilva said they would follow up complaints with “sensitivity”.

Officers would initially be offered training and counselling to try to change their behaviour, but in serious cases they will face disciplinary action.

Mr. DeSilva said: “We are committed to develop all our staff to achieve high standards of competency and performance. The benefit back to the police comes in the form of public trust, confidence, cooperation and support.”

Mr. DeSilva said the Code had been well received by officers: “So far, so good. The mood is up. Officers think this is what we need, it shows what we stand for and what we don’t stand for.”

Michelle St. Jane, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, and Will Francis, PCA and former senior magistrate, were also at yesterday’s press conference.

Details on this year’s police complaints against police will be contained in a forthcoming police report.

If you know of any officers breaching the code of conduct, call the Bermuda Police Association on 299-4491.

Read the full Code of Conduct