Robbing the cops
We return today to the Royal Barbados police Force.
Not to point specific fingers or to castigate an organisation that has served Barbados and its democracy well, but to repeat a plea that fell on deaf ears more than 15 years ago.
The late Assistant Commissioner of police, Arrundel “Orrie pomp” Greenidge, one of the island’s top detectives and a fearless administrator in his time, once openly called on the Government of the day to launch an investigation into the functioning of the Royal Barbados police Force.
From his strategic position within the organisation, he saw much to lament in the day-to-day administration of the organisation, its morale, and more significantly, the service that the public was likely to receive when those providing it had a house that was far from in order.
That there might be a divide at the top, the middle, or among the lower ranks, is not a situation that is unique to the RBpF. It is something that can occur in any other organisation, be it military, paramilitary or otherwise. But what makes suggestions of divide among the ranks a cause of great concern, is the place a police force holds in any society, the power it wields and the likely fall-out if the systems within fail.
Political influence and interference in the force, we believe, is not endemic. But it exists. No self-respecting politician, indeed, not even a self-respecting journalist, would deny that having the readily available ear of a senior officer, or his close friendship, is akin to having an ace up one’s sleeve in times of great need.
But we digress.
Greenidge, and many since him, had issues with the functioning of the Office of the Commissioner of police, the promotional process, the departmental and divisional transfer system, and the entire question of discipline and disciplinary procedures.
The current disquiet in the police force as it relates to promotions is old news. That it has reached the Supreme Court, though, is unprecedented. The court process will naturally take its course today, or whenever it does, and we will wait on its findings.
But those aggrieved officers are there to fight their own cause. They are not taking action to have exploration into the systems that, as we understand, kept John Annel an inspector for more than a decade while juniors superseded him. Nor are the aggrieved officers seeking to unearth the reasons why an individual like Jasper Watson, identified by many at the highest levels of Governments across the Caribbean, remained an inspector for almost 15 years while some of those he trained superseded him. That is not the remit of the current judicial enquiry.
But therein rests the major problem — the transparency of promotions. Our diligent research shows that police officers of the ranks of constables and sergeants sit an examination and go into something called “the zone of
promotion”. If after three years and no promotion comes their way they can be re-interviewed for future promotion. This process is repeated without the need to re-write the exam.
The only requirement thereafter is to wait … and then, wait some more … and some more. Station sergeants and inspectors do not sit an examination but are subjected to something called an “assessment centre” where there are put through rigorous interview/ assessment scenarios which look at their administrative skills. This is done once, and these seniors will remain in that “assessment centre” from which they might get promotion.
There is no second assessment and if promotion does not come, they simply have to wait … and then, wait some more … and some more. Our research indicates that there are some police officers who have been eligible for promotion within their respective “zones” for more than
a decade, sometimes two, and never receive promotion.
A system that accommodates people in a static situation is not ideal. A system that does not reward performance is not ideal. A system that does not bring the best talents to the fore is not ideal. A system that is not transparent enough to provide credible answers to those negatively affected by its machinations is not ideal.
And this is true for the RBpF, the Barbados Defence Force, Cave Shepherd, Barbados TODAY or paulette’s Bakery Inc. The general public is at the tail-end of disgruntled officers, whether at the senior ranks or the juniors. We need to look at the system of upward mobility and make it more transparent.
If the laws governing the force and its relationship with the police Service Commission need to be reviewed to improve this process, then this should be done with great dispatch. But it is not only in the area of promotions that there is disquiet. Transfers, we understand, have been used arbitrarily to punish officers, and have been a feature of the force for decades. There have been reported cases of officers being trained at great expense to the Government in specialist areas such as ballistics, fingerprint and handwriting identification, canine management, to name a few, only to find themselves curiously transferred. We are told that disciplinary matters hang over the heads of some officers for upwards of a decade when witnesses live in this jurisdiction.
Of course, the catch-22 situation is that while these matters are pending, officers are not subject to promotion, and in the case of suspensions, not privy to their full pay. The tenet of justice delayed is justice denied should apply to our police officers as well. In many ways, the RBpF is very much a “closed shop”, a “tight fraternity”, as it probably should be. But when wider Barbados starts to see cracks, we should not wait until they become gaping holes. Greenidge has long passed, but his cry is now echoing from beyond the grave. No one listened before, perhaps someone ought to now.