Editorial: An unwillingness to act

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The recent video of the conditions at the St. John’s Police Station has thrust the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda back into the spotlight. Not too long ago, there were serious allegations of uninvited and unwanted sexual advances made against a senior male police officer and before that, there was the hard to explain escape of a shackled prisoner, triple murder accused Delano Forbes, from five officers that were accompanying him on an investigation in Swetes.
In assessing the situation surrounding the escape, the Attorney General, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, who is also the minister of Public Safety, referred to the escape as a “gross neglect of duty”.  The ‘vampire killer’, as the murder accused has been dubbed, eluded the police and their search parties for an entire month. He was eventually captured in a pump house at Follies after the reward for his capture was raised to $50,000. During his time on the loose, the citizens and residents of this country lived in fear; especially those in Swetes and surrounding areas. 
No one could understand how a man, shackled at his ankles, could shuffle through the high grass and navigate the dense underbrush known to be in the areas, and escape his handlers. At the time, Minister Benjamin demanded a report on the matter and promised to make that report public. We backed the minister’s request and said that the process needed to be done in a timely and very transparent manner. We suggested that the investigative process would be necessary to claw back some of the credibility that has been lost.  What happened? Nothing!  The police never identified what went wrong and the public never got that badly need reassurance that steps were being taken to ensure that a similar situation would never happen again.  
As we predicted, the void was filled with every imaginable theory possible. None of them flattering to the police or the attorney general. We heard people theorise about ‘relationships’ and conclude that the prisoner was never shackled. How else, they reasoned, could he ‘run’ through tall grass with shackles across his ankles faster than the police? They believe that the photo of him posing casually in street clothes with the shackles on his legs was deliberately leaked to back-up the version that was presented by the police. The reality, they state, is that he was unshackled to move in the bush and got the better of those entrusted with his confinement.  
Following that incident was a complaint by four men against a senior male police office. The men, consisting of three junior officers and one police applicant, complained of unwanted sexual advances and retaliation when the senior officer’s advances were rejected. The salacious nature of the complaints caught the public’s attention and everyone eagerly waited for the attorney general, and others in charge, to establish an independent investigation.
Instead of a full and transparent investigation, the public was treated to the usual ‘sweep under the rug’ response. Even the prime minister’s response was disappointing. He essentially brushed aside the allegations without an investigation saying, “you know anybody can make an allegation, it doesn’t have to be true.“ But this was not a case of just anybody. This was a case of four individuals making complaints about the same senior officer; three of the four being police officers. How can Prime Minister Browne proclaim “I am not aware that there’s any veracity to those statements,” without an investigation?  In saying that, he essentially branded the four complainants as ‘liars’. In this age of heightened awareness of sexual impropriety by persons in authority, it is extremely disappointing that our society will be so willing to turn a blind eye to such serious complaints. 
As with the escaped prisoner incident, the lack of an investigation and the lack of transparency surrounding such a serious matter has caused the public to fill the void with their own theories, and none is complimentary to those persons, who invariably come under scrutiny, including the attorney general, the prime minister and the members of the Police Service Commission.   
We had foolishly thought that this most recent incident was serious enough that it would not have been swept under the carpet but we were wrong.  Like the prisoner’s escape, the incident has damaged the force’s reputation and people are left shaking their heads and moaning the questioning refrain “who polices the police?”
In all of this, we must not forget the victims. In the case of Delano Forbes, he is accused of the killing of Wilfred ‘Bongo’ Williams, Shawn Henry and Lisue “Dirty” Williams. During his escape, the families of these men suffered, the community suffered and the nation suffered. In the case of the senior male officer, there are four men who felt so aggrieved that they came forward with their stories and made official complaints. They have seen no justice and have had their complaints essentially rejected while their alleged predator is allowed to continue as though nothing has happened. 
Is this the opaque route being adopted to repair the force’s reputation? If it is, it demonstrates what many already suspect – that those in authority condone “gross neglect of duty” and sexual predators. We hope that is not the case.

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