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Under Scrutiny: Force tension
By Stephen Alleyne
Last week I promised I’d refrain from making any comments about the High Court action brought by the 15 police officers against the Police Service Commission (PSC) challenging their exclusion from promotion, but I couldn’t allow Dale Marshall’s invective against the PSC in certain sections of the media to escape scrutiny.
In his capacity as Shadow Minister of Home Affairs in the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Marshall, in calling on the Commissioner of Police to “say something”, has, in a release appearing in both printed and online newspapers, asserts that “[f]rom the day after the election (January 15, 2008 General Election), the force became completely politicised, with breaches in the chain of command, tension between the Police Service Commission and the leadership of the force, resulting in such things as specious and preposterous charges being brought against the Commissioner”. Obviously armed with many of the details in terms of the number of persons recommended for promotion, which must touch and concern the trial presently before the court, he accuses the PSC of wrestling the management of the force from the capable hands of the Commissioner and rejecting one-third of his recommendations.
From a strict reading of the above quote, Marshall is saying that from January 16, 2008 there was tension between the PSC and the leadership of the force; thus, he is not only lambasting the present PSC, but the previous PSC which was appointed by the Governor General on the advice of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. To my knowledge the Arthur-recommended PSC remained in office for another year after the 2008 General Election. To also say in the release that the tension in the force started in 2008, Marshall is confirming that as Attorney General until 2008 he wasn’t in tune with what was happening in the force. I’d be surprised if his party colleague Mia Mottley, the Attorney General he succeeded, would support him on this one.
Marshall clearly doesn’t understand the culture in force, so he needs to be apprised.
For Marshall’s information, the disquiet in the force started long before January 16, 2008. A pall of uneasiness and ill-will is always cast over the organisation the moment promotions are in the air, but the breaking-point, in my view, was about 1999 when the force was undergoing a transition at the top. That year, Senior Superintendent Vernon Wilkinson and the present Commissioner of Police, Darwin Dottin, were promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police with effect, I think, from December 15, and Bertie Hinds, the present Deputy Commissioner, was promoted to the same rank with effect from January 1, 2000. This set of promotions effectively made Dottin senior to Hinds, but, Wilkinson, because of his date of enlistment in the force, remained senior to Dottin. The anecdote is told of how these three individuals appeared at a meeting and as Wilkinson was preparing to sit in the order of seniority to Dottin, he was told to hold his horses that something else may be coming. Days later, Commissioner Grantley Watson received another letter from the PSC which made Dottin senior to Wilkinson by 15 days.
Dottin later became Deputy Commissioner of Police to Commissioner Watson and on Watson’s retirement he became Commissioner. Another event that poured fuel on the fire in the force was the fact that in October 2003 Wilkinson had long indicated that he was going on pre-retirement with effect from October 2003 and days before he proceeded he received a letter from the PSC informing him that he was acting as Deputy Commissioner of Police indefinitely. Dottin, I’m told, called Wilkinson and Hinds to his office, read the letter and told them that that was what the PSC had decided. Wilkinson would have none of it, because he thought it was unfair to Hinds, and he went on leave. Hinds then acted as Deputy Commissioner of Police for several months before he was appointed. Ever since the force has not been the same, because Dottin and Hinds are seldom ad idem on important administrative matters concerning the force. Hence, a number of events have conspired to create the tensions in the force under the BLP regime, and these tensions have not been eliminated by the Democratic Labour Party’s.
I have also noted that Marshall has called for the resignation or dismissal of the members of the PSC, questioning their motives. But is that enough to call for the removal of a body that is presumed to be independent of the executive, the judiciary and the legislature? The members of service commissions, like Judges of the Supreme Court, can only be removed from office for inability to discharge the functions of the office or for misbehaviour. Of course, the implication of Marshall’s whole discourse is that the political interference in the force of which he speaks is coming from the PSC although he hasn’t mentioned a shred of evidence to support his claim. It would be interesting to see how the members of the present PSC deal with these allegations.
The truth is that even if the BLP wins the next General Election, the present members of the PSC are going to be in office for about another two years unless they decide to resign or it can be shown that they misbehaved.
(Stephen Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former member of the Royal Barbados Police Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)