Talks underway to begin separation of fire department from police force

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The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda has announced that it is putting plans in motion to separate the Fire Brigade from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB).

On Wednesday, Fire Chief Elvis Weaver, and Acting Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney met with Cabinet officials to expound upon a paper which was submitted by Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin.

At the post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters that the separation will help increase fire response times.

“The school of thought is that there are two separate undertakings requiring different resource allocations. The fire chief made the case that [with] the number of wooden houses you have in certain communities, the risk of a fire is great and so he wants to ensure that at all times he has the resources available to be able to respond,” he said.

Antigua and Barbuda remains the only CARICOM country that has not begun this separation process, with St. Kitts and Nevis being the most recent country to do so.

Currently, the Commissioner of Police acts as the head of the Fire Brigade based on the Fire Brigades Act 1954 which, according to Cabinet, leads to “inherent inadequacies in responding to 2019 conditions”.

The Cabinet also discussed the possibility of employing special constables, or civilians, to undertake certain responsibilities that are currently being carried out by trained police officers.

Nicholas said that the constables will be responsible for administrative functions, such as updating and compiling the criminal records database.

“There are administrative functions that do not ordinarily require a trained police officer to do. For example, the criminal records office involves a search of database and attestation that a person does not have a criminal record,” he said, adding that this may free up the amount of active duty police officers available.

Nicholas explained that the modernization of the criminal records office to digital will make it easier for the employed staff to adjust to the new system.

“Over the past 18 months, the Ministry of Information has helped the police force to digitize their records. Therefore, the search of

[criminal records]

is now less reliant on memory and knowledge of the criminal prosecutorial office,” he said.

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