Editorial: A gross neglect of duty

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The attorney general (AG) has come out swinging in the first round of criticism of the police in their handling of the situation that allowed for the escape of triple-murder accused Delano Forbes.  Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, who is also the minister of Public Safety, which includes the police and other law enforcement agencies referred to the situation as a “gross neglect of duty.”
Like nearly every other person in Antigua and Barbuda, and obviously the AG, we were left shaking our heads, and a bit afraid, when we heard that the murder accused was able to escape from police custody while in shackles.  Apparently, he jumped off a “cliff” while accompanying police on their investigations in Swetes.  Forbes was there to point out additional things as evidence in one of the cases against him.  
The early reports gave us little to understand what had happened.  That alarm was not sounded by the police.  It was a relative of one of Forbes’ alleged victims who was the first to alert the media about the escape and then it was confirmed by police later.  
Now to the question that everyone is asking: how could a prisoner, who is shackled and accompanied by police make a successful getaway on foot?  How is that possible?  Seriously, the police need to give a detailed report on what set of circumstances allowed this to happen in order to save
face.  Otherwise, the public perception that they are a bunch of bungling “Keystone Cops” will stick, and we cannot allow that to happen.
Maybe we have seen too many movies or maybe it is just commonsense, but we would have thought that when a prisoner, in this case an accused serial murder, is taken out of the security of the prison, extreme measures are taken to limit his/her mobility and exaggerate their appearance.  First, we would expect that the prisoner would be clothed in extremely obvious prison garb – bright orange, prison stripes, something that would scream, “This is a prisoner.”  Secondly, we would think that the prisoner would be shackled, hand and foot and hands to feet.  So when he or she awkwardly runs down the road, a casual onlooker would know instantly that they are observing a prisoner on the run.
So, imagine our surprise when we saw a photo of the accused murderer, arms folded and dressed quite casually while posing for a police photo in the field.  One had to look closely to see the loose shackles around his ankles.  His blue t-shirt and flowered beach shorts totally camouflaged his status as a prisoner.  The picture began making the rounds on social media and many thought it was a hoax, but according to Deputy Commissioner Of Police Atlee Rodney, the photo is genuine.  He said, he was not certain who released the photograph, but we learned from another officer who did not have permission to speak with the media, that the unofficial release was done to give the public a more precise look at what Forbes looked like when he escaped.
We appreciate the release for two reasons. One, it does show us Forbes’ most recent appearance, and two, it reveals how prisoners are restrained and dressed when in the field outside the secure boundaries of the prison.
Beyond the burning “how-did-this-happen” question that is searing through the nation, we now must add, how are the deficient police procedures going to be remedied so that other prisoners do not
escape so easily?  We have already offered two commonsense recommendations – obvious prison garb and better restraints, but we are sure there are more.   Further, we are sure that we do not need to reinvent the wheel here.  There must be well-established procedures for handling prisoners, especially violent prisoners, when they need to be transported for any reason.
Minister Benjamin has demanded a report on the matter and has promised to make that report public. All this needs to be done in a timely and very transparent manner to claw back some of the credibility that has been lost.  The police need to reassure the public that every step will be taken to ensure that this does not happen again.  They need to acknowledge their mistakes, take their licks, and move forward on the right foot.  At the same time, the minister and the government need to ensure that the police are adequately resourced.  Very likely, the police and prison will report that they do not have prison garb and proper shackles.  
If that is the case, then the finger-pointing will begin and we will get nowhere.  Just as we ask for the police to acknowledge their mistakes and take their licks, the politicians must do the same.  The criticism that the incident was a sign of “gross neglect of duty” is a double-edged sword because it can be argued that it is a gross neglect of duty for politicians to neglect the needs of law enforcement.

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