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Under Scrutiny: Ciao, Bertie!
By Stephen Alleyne
Tomorrow the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bertie Hinds, will say goodbye to the men and women of the Royal Barbados Police Force as his more than 44 yearsí service in the 177-year-old organisation comes to an end.
Undoubtedly, the majority of the forceís members will wish him well in his future endeavours. A few, it is expected, will not spare the time even to pay lip-service to the veteran police officerís contribution to the force and his country. Will Commissioner Darwin Dottin condescend to do so? I donít think so. It is virtually impossible for Dottin to have anything positive to say about a deputy with whom he has had a tumultuous relationship for the past nine years. The enmity between the two highest-ranking officers in the force is what, to my mind, has precipitated the gaping division and low morale evident in the organisation today, but there are a number of other contributing factors.
In a previous article I identified the breaking-point in the organisation as early as 1999 when the decision was taken by the Police Service Commission to make Dottin senior to Vernon Wilkinson and Hinds, both of whom were senior to Dottin at the time, on their promotion to the rank of Assistant Commissioners of Police.
However, the force underwent a metamorphosis under Dottinís leadership. Officers of all ranks for whatever reason, and the evidence is available, became the focus of a phone-tapping campaign, the object of which is still somewhat vague. The evidence nevertheless suggests that the exercise was to determine their political affiliation rather than any involvement in criminal conduct or corrupt practices. For example, certain members of the Police Service Commission, Deputy Commissioner Hinds, former Senior Superintendent Graham Archer, former Senior Superintendent Morgan Greaves and a number of junior officers who performed duties with Members of Parliament were the principal targets.
At the same time, a number of things considered integral to the development of the force ground to a halt. For example, this Commissioner of Police, described by Opposition Member of Parliament Dale Marshall as one of the finest police officers in the Caribbean, has not convened an annual force conference since 2008. A force conference is the forum where the rank and file are given the opportunity to make their contribution to the forceís policy. The result is that the rank and file have been silenced and the feeling among the junior ranks is that Dottin has effectively thwarted any potential confrontation with them.
As far as discipline is concerned, the disciplinary tribunal (the Commissioner) has met once between July 2011 and July 2012. Under former Commissioners Orville Durant and Grantley Watson, the tribunal heard matters once or sometimes twice a month as the exigencies required. Generally, police officers who have outstanding disciplinary matters hanging over their heads are not promoted once those matters remain unheard. Dottinís failure to hear disciplinary matters in a timely manner has therefore denied, and continues to deny, several police officers of promotion.
Then there is the problem of the issue of firearm licences. When Dottin became Commissioner of Police he established a three-man committee to determine the issuance of firearm licences, removing the discretion to grant or refusal of licences from one person alone. This was a good decision in that it brought fairness and transparency to the process. However, the committee seldom meets and the consequence is that applicants have been paying their application fees to the police department and have not been getting the service they paid for.
I have said all of the above to sketch the kind of force Mr. Hinds is leaving behind as he takes leave. Sadly, there are still quite a number of officers who would not want him to go at a time when the force is at its lowest ebb. He is perceived by many to be the one person who can keep the ship on course. Unfortunately, the shipís navigational equipment has long malfunctioned, and it is going to take more than GPS (Global Positioning System) to bring it back on course. This is a task for younger heads.
I have known Bertie Hinds for a long time; we patrolled the beat together 35 years ago as constables, and in the early 80s we reunited when we were transferred to work in what used to be the Traffic Branch. Hinds excelled in academia and would have received the bulk of his promotions during the tenure of Commissioner Durant who rewarded officers who did exceptionally well academically. The holder of a masterís degree in criminology, Hinds for the past four years has been lecturing part-time in criminal justice and criminology at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI). And this too was abhorred by his Commissioner who tried to frustrate him by failing to submit his application to do private work as required by the rules of the Public Service.
In closing I want to wish Mr. Hinds well and urge him to continue lecturing at the UWI which will keep a fertile mind well nurtured. Lest I forget, I am well aware that there are some senior people in the force (some past ones as well) who have been quietly critical about some of the comments I make in this space concerning the goings-on in the organisation. I want to state publicly that the critics are welcome to reply orally or they can pen their responses in this paper under a pseudonym if they lack the guts to state their real names.
(Stephen Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former member of the Royal Barbados Police Force. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)