By the time this edition of Barbados TODAY goes live, High Court Judge Madame Justice Elneth Kentish would be just hours away from rendering her decision on a matter brought by almost two dozen police officers regarding their non-promotion.
It would be reasonable to conclude therefore that by that time the judge would already have made up her mind. However, given our laws and customs, we will steer clear of any comment that would suggest we are trying to influence the outcome.
In any event, this challenge of the system, or more appropriately, what the officers of varying ranks consider to be abuse of the system, is in our view only a symptom of a larger problem in the Royal Barbados Police Force, which based on what we are hearing, is only likely to escalate.
And, we believe, this should be of grave concern to all Barbadians.
It is impossible to carry on a conversation with any member of the RBPF, particularly those beyond a certain rank, without the discussion quickly evolving into a criticism of the direction in which the force is going, or has gone. Like it or not, believe it or not, there is hardly a member of the force who does not believe the institution is suffering and that its genesis is the absence of good relations between Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin and Deputy Commissioner of Police Bertie Hinds.
At this stage we believe it is pointless arguing about who should have got the top job — Dottin or Hinds. It is now almost a decade and as far as members of the public can see, rather than an improvement in relations there has been a deterioration.
In fact, one can’t help but notice that police officers or persons who interact with them, often make reference to a clear divide between members of the force who are “Dottin’s men [and we presume women]” and what is commonly called “the northern cabinet” — those who supposedly support Hinds.
What makes this particularly disturbing is that it is not a trait of a handful of senior officers who occupy the police boardroom and side with one or the other, for sensible reason or otherwise, but right through the ranks, with juniors showing disdain for some seniors because of alliances.
In any organisation the size of the Royal Barbados Police Force, with 1,600-odd members, it would be normal to expect difference of opinion, challenges to authority and personality clashes, but what is currently occurring in the RBPF ought to be of immense concern to those who are responsible for the force.
We would be so bold as to say that if the Commission of Enquiry looking into affairs at the Alexandra School had been investigating the state of the RBPF, what is now being revealed at the Wildey Gymnasium each day would seem like a Sunday School lesson.
Barbadians should start asking those who are in power how many components of the force, which had kept it head and shoulders above others in the region for decades, have grown almost nonexistent in the last four to five years.
Some with an interest to protect may suggest that, since crime remains largely under control in Barbados, we are doing nothing more than crying wolf — but it would serve us all well to never forget that crime is a dynamic thing, and individuals at all levels will exploit weaknesses wherever they appear.
The matter of the effective administration of the Royal Barbados Police Force must be addressed now, because if the decline at the top is allowed to continue the differences may become so ingrained Barbados may find itself like Trinidad and Jamaica — looking overseas for top police administrators. We have invested too much in the development of what we have to allow this situation to continue.
So Madame Justice Kentish’s ruling may, to some extent deal with the dispute over promotions, but it will not come close to resolving the deep-seated matters that are dividing the institution.
With all respect, this is not the Royal Darwin Dottin Police Force or the Royal Bertie Hinds Police Force. In case we have lost sight of land in this gale, it is the Royal Barbados Police Force — an institution whose stability directly influences the stability of the whole society. It’s time for those with authority and responsibility to stop pussy-footing and act decisively — in the interest of the country.