Defence Force and police unite amid state of emergency

Chief of Defence Staff, Colonel Telbert Benjamin (file photo)
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By Orville Williams

Two of Antigua and Barbuda’s major security forces have united to administer state of emergency protocols.

During a recent press conference, Colonel Telbert Benjamin — the newly installed Chief of Defence Staff at the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) — disclosed that the ABDF will be working alongside police to enforce the new restrictions which include a 24-hour lockdown.

“The ABDF – under the Defence Act – has essentially the same powers as the RPFAB,” Colonel Benjamin said.

“However, we, as an institution over the years, have developed a very good relationship with the RPFAB and, because of our limited resources, it is felt best that we cooperate and collaborate with the Royal Police Force – do it jointly.

“Resources in every way are scarce and so, in order to enforce the curfew that has been put in place, the Defence Force will work along with the Police Force and all other law-enforcement entities, to ensure that the direction and the decisions of the government are followed through.”

In referring to the established curfew stipulations, Colonel Benjamin said the ABDF has the right to take certain actions, to include making arrests, but reiterated the decision to work in a cooperative manner.

“Under the state of emergency, the members of the ABDF have that authority, but as I mentioned before, we believe it is in our best interest and in the best interest of Antigua and Barbuda that we work in a collaborative way with the RPFAB, to ensure that the current state that we are in is managed in the most amicable way for all Antiguans and Barbudans,” he said.

The only “exception” to the collaborative approach, Benjamin said, will be the case of sailors attached to the Defence Force. These members will be working separately, but to the same end.

“The ABDF sailors and soldiers, for the most part, will be deployed with the RPFAB. It is obvious that, in the maritime sphere, that will be a separate entity doing the jobs and meeting the requirements within that environment, but on land, for sure, in all the areas that have been identified and considered to be hotspots, the ABDF will work jointly with the RPFAB to ensure that we have a seamless operation,” he explained.

Meanwhile, RPFAB spokesperson, Inspector Frankie Thomas, said that the police will be actively enforcing the social distancing rules, regardless of the circumstances. The lawman was referring to instances of residents “panic shopping” moments after the impending 24-hour curfew was announced. Thomas said that while it is understandable that people may be trying to acquire certain essential items, the stipulations must still be adhered to and police will be taking action to ensure this.

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