By Orville Williams
As the wait continues for an independent body to be established to scrutinise the actions of the police, one former high-ranking lawman is urging the authorities to remain steadfast in those plans.
Several former officers, attorneys and members of the public have long been calling for such an entity to be formed, and those calls are reiterated each time there is a controversial incident involving the police.
Public Safety Minister, Steadroy Benjamin, disclosed in Parliament nearly a year ago that efforts would be made to establish that body in quick time, having said a year prior that the idea was being considered at the highest levels.
And despite the lengthy delay in getting the idea off the ground, former Assistant Commissioner and former head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Nuffield Burnette, said it is still very much needed.
“It doesn’t matter how long delayed a thing is – especially of this importance – it always matters that it can be put in place at some stage. It’s not like you [should] call it off and say ‘the fact that it wasn’t done however long ago, then there is no need now to do it’.
“So, notwithstanding [the fact] it should have been done a while ago, it still has to be done, [although] the sooner the better,” Burnette told Observer.
The calls for that independent body were intensified in 2020 following the death of father-of-two Bruce Greenaway, who was reportedly last seen alive in the presence of personnel attached to the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB) and the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF).
Four former law enforcement officers have since been charged with Greenaway’s death and a trial is set to commence in July.
And just last year, the calls resurfaced with some vigour after former education minister Michael Browne claimed that he was the victim of attempted blackmail and suggested that police personnel were involved.
The police force was even prompted to respond to those suggestions, encouraging the now minister of Creative Industries and Innovation to “provide the information, including the names of the officers allegedly involved in the conspiracy so that an internal investigation can be initiated into the matter”.
Two officers are also awaiting a verdict in a court case, where it is alleged that they held a man at gunpoint and took illegal drugs from him for their personal gain almost five years ago.
In addition to those incidents, there have been countless – unverified, but not baseless – public complaints from residents against the police, accusing them of things like the use of excessive force and abusing their authority, as well as failure to repay personal debts.
In fact, the police reported earlier this year that 68 complaints against officers were received in 2021, with three resulting in disciplinary action.
Bearing these issues in mind, Burnette added that there also needs to be an entity that holds the police accountable as far as their expected duties are concerned.
This, he says, could be part of the independent body charged with investigating complaints against the police, or made a separate entity of its own.
“It [would] not just be an investigative body, but one that sees to it that police officers do their job and follow up on [reports or cases].
“That body would have been responsible for the accountability of the police [in the matter involving the former Education Minister].”
And until this body is established, the former ACP is calling on the Office of Professional Standards within the force to improve its efficiency.
He lamented the gradual decline of the internal body, compared to his time in the force, saying it should be serving as a key element in the whole matter of modern policing.
“I headed [the Office of Professional Standards] when it started first, and from where that started to where it is now, it’s almost like it’s fast asleep.
“In the meantime, until this [independent body] comes into being, the emphasis ought to be on that Office of Professional Standards, [but] I don’t know if they have the will or the capacity,” he added.
In January this year, the Public Safety Minister told Observer that a final decision had not yet been made on the matter, but confirmed that persons were being examined with the view to selecting them to form the independent body in short order.