– Police officers “too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner”. Of 20 fatal shootings by police since 2009, most were found to be unjustified and a disproportionate use of force.
– The pattern of excessive use of force “is the result of serious systemic deficiencies in policy, training, supervision and accountability”.
– “Force incidents are not properly investigated, documented or addressed with corrective measures.”
– Police not only use deadly force when there was no immediate threat. They also “used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who were unarmed.”
– Police officers “escalate situations in which force could have been avoided had they instead used de-escalation measures.”
These findings were not from any Middle Eastern “repressive dictatorship”. This is a recent report by the US Justice Department into the performance of the Albuquerque Police Department from the state of New Mexico. Twenty “unconstitutional” killings, by just one Police Department, in a single US city, in a single US state.
These statistics can help us put into some kind of perspective what we have seen occurring in Bahrain over the past three years.
In a context of increasing levels of violence by rioters and numerous fatal attacks against police (four police have died since January 2014); only five rioters have been fatally wounded in confrontations with police over the last two years.
We should not say that five deaths are acceptable. Each one of those who died will have a grieving family, both on the side of the rioters and the police; whatever the circumstances of their deaths may be.
The reason why we are even discussing the issue of police performance and casualties of the Bahrain unrest is because this issue is ruthlessly exploited by the opposition. They argue that the Bahraini authorities and the security forces are engaged in “brutal repression” of “peaceful protests” and say that this justifies the use of force to overthrow Bahrain’s Constitutional Monarchy and set up a republic.
The opposition’s narrative is highly emotive; recycling the same photos again and again of a handful of protesters killed in the early days of the unrest. However, in the cold light of day, the numbers of those who have died – while tragic – is not out of the ordinary, given the continuing levels of disturbances and the high levels of police mobilization to protect property and safeguard the public.
In such a context, it is remarkable that certain human rights organizations give proportionately much greater attention to Bahrain, than they do to places like Syria and Egypt, where hundreds have lost their lives in recent months and high levels of abuses have been recorded. We could cite the example of Brian Dooley, the head of Human Rights First, who with all the world’s conflicts to choose from, spends most of his life writing hostile material about Bahrain – see his continual articles in the Huffington Post and his non-stop rhetoric on Twitter.
As a result of security sector reforms, new codes of conduct and extensive retraining, the performance of Bahrain’s police certainly has a lot of room to improve, but it is improving. A recent report by the British Foreign Office confirmed this “improving” record, and also cited projects by the British Government to support prison reform and police accountability in Bahrain.
So this is not a plea for complacency. We welcome all constructive encouragement and support towards policing reform in Bahrain, in order to better protect Bahraini citizens.
The global media and politicians round the world have been subject to a non-stop barrage of opposition propaganda, including a handful of shocking stories and photos used over and over again to give a false picture of what is happening in Bahrain.
Bahrain’s police are certainly not perfect, but they mostly do a commendable job, considering that they have seen many of their colleagues killed and over 2,500 of them have been injured. However, we hope to see continued improvement in Bahrain’s security sector and we are confident that policing reforms will be achieved.