Uncouth SSU cops
Journalists are not police officers, but in many ways our paths intersect daily. While the profession of journalism in Barbados has benefitted from the presence of former policemen who opted for the pen or camera over the baton and badge, every journalist, regardless of his background, eventually must become a skillful investigator if he or she is to be successful.
Like the police investigator, the journalist daily finds himself piecing together events that occurred outside of his or her presence, and in every case the assistance of others, witnesses and perhaps just the “malicious” is key to success.
It would appear, however, that we have a growing culture of police officers, particularly men, who believe that their badge or uniform means they do not have to win people to get help — that they can scare it out of civilians.
Just in case he does not know it, and we don’t see how he can’t, we feel the need to say to Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin that he has a growing problem of uncouth policemen. We do not understand why it is that it is so common to encounter policemen whose approach is manifestly unpleasant.
We are not talking about policemen who are forced into scenes of lawlessness where their intervention of necessity must be firm, but officers who find it impossible to give simple direction without shouting or badgering. Is there a course being taught at Regional Police Training Centre called “How to be uncouth effectively”?
In this space we have quoted previously the commissioner’s reference to the men and women of the Special Services Unit (commonly called the Task Force) as his big stick, which he must wield from time to time to bring the wayward to Christian understanding. And we have and will continue to support this approach and the unit.
But we will not support, or ignore, the continuous display of bad manners by individuals in the SSU, particularly when directed at members of the news media. We are serving notice to Commissioner Dottin and the officer with operational responsibility for the SSU, ASP Antonio Forte (who, coincidentally is not known for being less than civil with the Press and public) that every time we are approached in an unprofessional manner by any member of this unit, or any other arm of the police force, our staff will record and we will display publicly every episode of bad manners.
We do not seek to undermine the force since to do so is not in our best interest or that of the country, but if those who are responsible for the organisation are unwilling or unable to reign in uncouth and unprofessional members, then we will shame the offenders.
This morning there was a murder at Cin Cin Restaurant at Prospect, and we were amazed at how we were approached by a member of the SSU, who clearly has limited people skills. The irony is that Barbados TODAY team by chance happened upon the scene, which at the time appeared as a gathering of people on one side of the street and police on the other. There was no anxiety or acute alertness by the reporters since the belief was that they had stumbled upon a routine traffic accident.
“Guh to de next side of de road!” “Don’t tek no pictures: When we ready we will let you get pictures!”
Why would a police constable approach a reporter in this manner? What’s the training that would compel you to elevate a calm and non-combative environment into one of confrontation?
Why not?: “We’re dealing with a crime scene and the investigators have asked us to restrict everyone to the other side of the street. We know we can’t prevent you from taking photos, but we would prefer if you wouldn’t just yet…”
How can you fault an officer with such an approach? How can you not cooperate when approached in this manner?
Then to show he’s really in the Commissioner’s big stick, the constable barks to the journalist who walks along the opposite side of the street where members of the public were traversing freely: “Don’t pass dey! Guh back!” Clearly he was setting up a situation of arrest for failing to follow the instructions of a policeman in the execution of his duties, never mind he was not bothered by all the other people who were walking by.
Perhaps Commissioner Dottin should remind members of his big stick, and all other lawmen, of Section 12 on Page 11 of the RBPF’s Media Policy, which states “Police officers shall not restrict news photographers from taking pictures merely because the officer may disagree with the nature/type of pictures. It is the news photographer’s and the reporter’s job to gather information and take pictures.”
And Section 13: “Members of the media shall not obstruct a police officer in the lawful execution of his or her duty. It must, however, be noted that the mere presence of an authorised media representative at … [a] crime …, the taking of photographs and the gathering of information relative to the incident in and of itself does not constitute an obstruction.”
That can’t be difficult for anyone to understand!