EDITORIAL: The indignity of it all

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Since the news hit that a group of teachers at the All Saints Secondary School said they were strip-searched after a colleague reported to police that over $4,500 went missing from her bag, we have not found one person who has said that the action was “okay.”  That leaves us to wonder, how did a group of police officers come to a different conclusion?
The story goes something like this.   A female teacher called police and reported that money was missing from her bag that she had left in the staff room.  Exact time of the alleged theft is unknown.  Law enforcement officers arrived at the school after the day’s classes and the 14 teachers who were unfortunately still at work, were reportedly strip-searched.  Not just a simple strip-search, as if “simple” could be applied to a strip-search, but one where the ‘suspects’ were also made to squat and cough in front of strangers. 
There is so much wrong with this scenario and it leads to so many questions.  First, under what authority do lawmen have this kind of power?  We can understand a search, and if we stretch, we can understand a strip-search to the point of underwear (and trust us, we would need to stretch very far to get to that point), but we cannot understand going any further.  What did they expect to pop out when they asked the teachers to squat and cough?
The level of humiliation that these 14 poor teachers must have felt is unimaginable and we cannot reconcile how anyone could think this action was justified.  Beyond the obvious incredulous nature of the strip-search, how did a possible $4,500 theft warrant a strip search?  Other people who have had money go missing must be scratching their heads in disbelief.  Not only that, what kind of investigation prompted the police to believe that one of the 14 teachers that remained at the school was the culprit? How many teachers were in at the school when the money went missing?  How did the police determine the money was indeed stolen and not misplaced? 
The latter question is of particular importance because it has been reported that the woman who made the report was not entirely sure that there was a theft as she returned home to check for the money.  If she was unsure, how did she persuade the police that a crime occurred?   So many questions.
One of the teachers said that the group felt like their “civil decency was violated by the police and the woman who orchestrated this chain of events,” and we have to agree.  Can you image that you go to work in the morning and by the end of the day, you are a suspect in a theft and caused to strip naked, squat and cough like you are smuggling drugs or some sort of contraband?  All under the ogling, investigative eyes of strangers?  What would have happened if someone had objected to the search, would things have escalated to the point of a physical confrontation?  And why wasn’t anyone informed of his or her rights before the search was done, as has been reported?
We wondered if this was some sort of standard procedure with the police.  We doubted it, but could not get a straight answer.  Luckily, Former Commissioner of
Police, Rawlston Pompey, has spoken out on the matter and stopped us from second-guessing ourselves.  Pompey said the officers were reckless, since that type of search was unjustifiable and such an invasive investigation procedure goes against basic police training.  In short, the former Police Commissioner said, “It was totally wrong.”
He also described the action as crossing the lines of civility – it was insensitive and degrading.  All apt descriptions, which get us back to one of the key questions: How did this fall into the realm of okay with the officers involved?  Of course, there is the usual chatter of investigations and reports, but the skeptic in us fear that this incident, like many others, will find a cozy home under a rug somewhere.  Let us hope that we are wrong.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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