If the recent pronouncements from Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Atlee Rodney were part of an attempt to bolster the trust between the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda and the public, following the daylight escape of multi-murder accused Delano Forbes, then that attempt fell flat upon delivery. The assertion that the escape investigation and the resulting report are internal matters and will not be made public is absurd and we implore Attorney General (AG) Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin and Commissioner of Police Wendel Robinson to rubbish these thoughts and be entirely transparent in this instance. It is the only way to regain some of the trust and respect that was damaged in the events surrounding the escape.
It serves no good to keep the public in the dark. It only leads to unanswered questions that will ultimately find an “answer” or conspiracy to fill the void. What makes this an internal matter? Is it only the police who are at risk with a possible serial killer on the loose? Are the dangers posed and the anxiety felt internal to the police force only? Take the time to ask around and we are sure you will find that is not the case.
According to Rodney, “Most internal investigations are not public information. It’s not a matter of any cover-up, but most times when officers are dealt with internally, it is not a public matter.” We can understand some of the general concepts within that statement but at the same time, maybe that way of thinking is part of the problem.
First, why label this an “internal investigation” when there are so many public implications? We cannot see how an accused serial-killer escaping police custody and being on the loose in our communities falls into the category of “internal investigation.” He is not prowling the police stations and striking fear into the hearts of officers. He is out and about in public. Here, the emphasis is on “public”. So, let’s just eliminate the word “internal” and recognise that this is a public safety issue first and foremost.
The second part of the Deputy Commissioner’s statement also needs to be reviewed in order to bolster trust between the police force and the public. Stating “…most times when officers are dealt with internally, it is not a public matter” commits to words what the public has been shouting about for years. Because the public never hears how complaints and other offences are dealt with, they very often assume that they were never dealt with and that disciplinary action within the force is non-existent.
“Dem can do as dey like an nobody care ‘bout arwe!” is a common refrain heard in communities following complaints about police behaviour. It is time that the public knows that there are consequences and not just a giant black hole of cover-ups. It must not be lost on anyone that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
Now is not the time for any doublespeak, or excuses. Now is the time for an honest conversation with the public. A transparent presentation of the facts surrounding the escape, an acknowledgement of what when wrong and most importantly, what processes have been implemented to make sure it does not happen again. That is what the people want. And it should be what the police want as well.
A great amount of damage to the police-public relations has been done in the aftermath of this incident and it does not help the already strained relationship to hear the DCP being less than forthcoming about what the police may be willing to let the public know. Already, people are upset that the officers involved in the incident are still on the job because there has been no explanation as to why that decision was taken. Most thought that they should have been suspended or relegated to desk work until the investigation was final. If there is a good reason to still have them on active duty, then someone needs to explain that to the public so that they understand the reasoning.
We often take licks for supporting and defending the police and are happy to do so when we see unfair criticism being leveled in a very generic manner. And we still hold out hope that we will hear something more than just the standard ‘national security’, ‘need to know basis’ excuses because we need more than that from our police; especially now. We need to develop a relationship built on trust and respect, where the only ones that fear the police are the criminals.
If the police do not use this opportunity to start mending the damaged relationship with the public, then those townhall meetings will continue to have empty chairs.