A POLICE FORCE IN CHAOS?
Toni Nicholas & Alicia Valasse
There is little doubt that the allegations revealed by prime minister Kenny Anthony, supposedly contained in the IMPACS report, have demoralized the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF). In a national address on Sunday March 8, the prime minister revealed that a team of Jamaican investigators had delivered an “extremely damning” report looking at the deaths of 12 people fatally shot by police in 2010 and 2011. The PM also informed the populace that the investigators had discovered, among other things, that some of the killings were staged by the police, that weapons were planted on victims by the police and that the police high command had willfully turned a blind eye.
Following the pronouncements, Camron Laure, the head of the Police Welfare Association, had expressed to members of the local media the unease and anxiety the PM’s statements had caused within the police force. He later went on to add that the police force was presently demoralized.
This week Laure took to the airwaves again to express his dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs within the police force. According to him, the fact that police commissioner Vernon Francois had been forced into taking leave also had the force in a state of disarray. He went on criticize the acting commissioner Errol Alexander for not ensuring that certain issues are addressed within the police force in a timely manner and for not allaying the fears of officers. He went on to describe the acting police chief as being a captain who was asleep.
On Friday acting police commissioner Errol Alexander summoned a press conference to address the criticism and comments.
“First of all I want to acknowledge that about two weeks ago I did receive a letter from the president of the Welfare Assocation. However, it was difficult to respond immediately as we were in the centre of carnival. It is the biggest operational event for the police on the calendar and it is our responsibility to ensure that it is policed effectively and also possibly incident free,” Alexander started off by saying. “Although I don’t want to “pick a fight” with the president, since we must work together in harmony for the well-being of the men and women in the force ... so that they can perform at the maximum, I believe he is being unreasonable and unfair in his assertions and he should help mend the organization’s wounds at this particular time,” he went on.
According to Alexander, he became acting head of the organization on 9th March when the commissioner went on leave. “This means that the commissioner still retained most of his powers and I had to consult with him on many policy issues before moving on,” he said adding, “I still held this position even after the prime minister’s address on the IMPACS reports when I had the press conference under the theme: ‘Reassurance in the face of trying times’.”
On March 23, a little over three months ago, Alexander was appointed acting commissioner. “With the guidance of the executive and senior officers, we have been able to restore a level of stability to the organization amidst all the uncertainly surrounding it within the short space of time,” he expressed.
He then went on to dispute the legitimacy of the current Police Welfare Association saying that under the Police Act the present Welfare Association’s terms and conditions expired in March this year. “Elections were supposed to have been held to elect new branch boards from which the executive can work from ... and the branch boards speak to the various levels of subordinate officers. To date, after several meetings with the president, a new executive has not been elected,” Alexander charged. “Yes, I can understand that the law make provisions for the old executive to hold office until the new one is in place ... but it raises the issue of the president’s mandate,” he underscored, questioning who Laure was really providing representation for.
The APC then highlighted some of the concerns raised in the aforementioned letter including the Soufriere station, the question of promotions and police exams as well as the public perception of the RSLPF. The Soufriere station, Alexander pointed out, was assessed by a team of engineers from the Ministry of Infrastructure last Thursday. “They have provided the report to the Ministry of Infrastructure on the way forward in reference to work that needs to be done at that station,” he said.
“In relation to promotions, I would highlight that although the constitution gives the commissioner the powers to promote, with me I think for transparency and the way moving forward, there needs to be a set of rules to guide me as to who to promote and who not to promote. And again with the promotions guidelines, it makes representation for promotions to be done fairly, to select the right people to put in positions,” Alexander stated.
Asked about the rumours currently in circulation that members of the police hierarchy (including Commissioner Francois and ACP Frances Henry) would soon be sent home on preretirement leave, Alexander said he would put them down to just that, rumours. “I do not have any such information,” he stated.
Alexander also informed reporters on Friday that the cry from members of the public about corrupt and crooked police officers must be addressed. “You would agree with me that this is now the time when we have to put our police officers through vetting because we want to make sure that the quality of persons who are promoted is not corrupt like what the public is saying,” Errol Alexander commented.
Acting Police Chief Errol
Alexander fires back.