By Elesha George
“Leadership matters” was the message echoed by dozens of police officers who had gathered at the Police Recreation Grounds (PRG) on Monday, November 25th, 2019, as they attempted to settle a dispute with the acting Commissioner of Police, Atlee Rodney.
The gathering was initially meant to be a closed-door meeting with the Attorney General, Steadroy Benjamin, the Commissioner of Police and the Welfare executive and its members, to discuss what the Welfare Association described as the “dismissive” manner to the powers of the association by the Commissioner.
However, the Attorney General had postponed the planned meeting and what occurred on Monday morning seems to have set the stage for further industrial action.
“He disrespectfully walked out on us, as if we are nothing” acting Welfare Association chair, Corporal Marilyn Harris said, addressing the members.
The evidently surprised Commissioner had reacted unfavourably when he realised that the media had been invited to what he termed an “internal welfare meeting.”
“Did you invite the press?” he asked Corporal Marilyn, who replied “Yes.” It was then that Rodney told state TV along with OBSERVER media, that they could not enter while the meeting was in progress.
He made statements, purporting that he had not been informed that the press was coming.
He further divulged that he was not keen on them being privy to the content of Monday’s meeting.
“What I would advise out of that meeting, and if that’s the format you want to use with documents and writing out the [other] concerns that you may have, you can always list them after your discussion; write them and present them” he stated, as he grabbed his police hat and walked out of the meeting, just 30 minutes after it began.
Corporal Harris could be heard pleading with the Commissioner to take a few questions from the membership, but Rodney refused, as he headed out the door, accompanied by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Albert Wade.
Now feeling that they had been “provoked” to take further action, members uttered sentiments of frustration with one officer saying “It’s time to go to every friend, family, we go to the people where we work and we stop this nonsense” … “We allow people to just come and just
us;” “this is nonsense, we have to put a stop to that. We have to do it. We don’t have to ask nobody else to do it, but we have to do it. Let us call on our colleagues to do it, it’s time.”
This particular officer is of the opinion that the police force “is run down to the ground” because of the people who have been successively but unproductively placed in leadership roles.
One female officer exclaimed, “We are all together in this, it’s not him against us or us against him. We are in this together.”
While another uttered “we have questions for him;” “he cannot run the police force by himself;” “we are the foundation of the police force.”
Another officer proclaimed, “I have never in my 30 years of service, 30 unbroken years with integrity, seen any administration operate like this one.”
Corporal Harris, who reminded the membership that the Commissioner “did not stay for one question,” told the crowd that “I am 24 years now in the police organisation and when I became a police officer I would have met persons here claiming that they were fighting for the rights of the police and 24 years after, things are worse than before.”
“We are not anti-administration, we are not anti-government, we are about getting the respect that is due to us here in Antigua and Barbuda. We are being disrespected from all angles. How can we say that we have an administration that supports us,” the officer explained?
The executive has therefore taken the decision to continue to stage the on-duty sit-in today until they are able to resolve their problems amicably.
“The membership is displeased, and we are waiting on the Commissioner to come and address us, and listen to us, apologise to us; and if by the end of the day, our Commissioner is not here, we shall be right back here tomorrow morning, because we are resolved to meet with our Commissioner,” Corporal Harris said.