Editorial: A situation that calls for immediate action

Photo taken from: writinglives.org

There have been serious allegations of unwanted sexual advances being levelled against a senior male police officer by male subordinates in the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. In
this case, it is not a single incident, and the usual sweep it under the carpet “he said, he said” response is not an option for the Police Force. People are demanding to know.

We suspect that the main reason for the interest is the salacious nature of the allegations but, as weird as it sounds, that is probably a good thing in this instance because the investigation is in the spotlight and may actually go somewhere this time. For too long, the “police investigating police” scenario has left the public very unsatisfied. When persons lodge complaints against the police, there is a feeling that nothing will be done because the law enforcement fraternity looks out for one another.

This time, though, the complaints come mainly from within the ranks of the police. Three officers have filed formal grievances, and that is a big deal. The policemen are joined by a applicant to the force who also felt aggrieved by alleged unwanted sexual advances. Making the big deal, even bigger.

The complainants have put their grievances in the hands of the Police Service Commission (PSC), asking them to intervene and provide justice. Aside from obvious seriousness of the matter, the situation could lead to criminal charges on at least one of the charges. That was the opinion of attorney Richard Mayers, who just happens to be the chairman of the Police Service Commission in Barbados, so he probably knows a thing or two about which he speaks.
According to Mayers, there are implications for the good governance of the police force, and the scenario raises the spectre of criminal activity that could compromise the integrity of the force. This is very true. If justice is not done, and not seen to be done, in a very transparent manner, then the public’s perception of the force’s integrity will take a huge hit. A hit that it does not need at this point; especially considering all the questions surrounding the Delano Forbes escape and the empty seats at their town hall meetings.

The PSC and the force have already been criticized for the slow handling of the matter, and they must take immediate action before they make a bad situation worse. We agree with Mr. Mayers when he says, “… it may be a necessary step in an investigation of this nature for the accused officer to be removed from the environment just so that you can be sure that there is no interference with the investigation. That is especially relevant or pertinent in light of the fact that there are allegations of vindictive behaviour on the part of this officer with respect to people who rebuffed his advances.” How can it be any other way?

It was unfortunate to hear Prime Minister Gaston Browne make comments on the matter in the way that he did. Saying, “you know, anybody can make an allegation. It doesn’t have to be true,“ and “I am not aware that there’s any veracity to those statements,” was completely unnecessary. By his own admission, he was only aware of one complaint, not the four, so why offer any opinion regarding the “veracity” of the complaints. As PM, his words carry weight. He insisted that it is a matter for the Police Service Commission to handle so why not leave it at that? Throwing in, “And I’m not saying they [the allegation] are not [true],” does little if anything to undo the damage of questioning the truth of the four complaints.

The fact that one of these complaints dates back to May 2016 does not help the police as they seek to rebuild morale, their reputation, and a relationship with the public. Almost two years later and there has been no meaningful investigation completed. What could possibly be the reason for this? Meanwhile, the complainants live in fear of being victimized, which one refers to as being “very common.”

We are big supporters of the police, but, at the same time, allegations of sexual assault must be treated very seriously by all organizations. Junior members of staff cannot be left unprotected from superiors that have been labelled as vindictive. This scenario becomes even more disturbing when you consider the forceful, above-the-law approach that has been described by the complainants, where money is offered for sex coupled with the insinuation that others are complying with the unwanted sexual advances.

All eyes are on the PSC and the police force to see the next moves. From all indications, this will be a make a break moment for the Police if they hope to recover the lost lustre of the badge. We hope and pray that they seize the moment and use this investigation to prove to the entire nation that no one is above the law.

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