If there is evidence to support claims that customs officers are the one bringing guns into the island, arrest them.
This from the President of the National Union of Public Workers Akanni McDowall to the top ranks of the Royal Barbados Police Force and others who have suggested that the officers were complicit in the entry of illegal weapon into Barbados.
“There is no evidence to show that customs officers are involved in any kind of illegal activity. Think about it. You are the Commissioner of Police. You believe that customs officers are involved in illegal activity. Why don’t you go and arrest the customs officer? If you have evidence that these officers are doing things that are illegal, why don’t you address the situation?” McDowall said while speaking during a panel discussion on How Can We Stop the Guns from Coming, organized by the Men’s Fellowship of the Cave Hill Wesleyan Church.
“The customs officers I know are very honest, very sound, very fair people and very firm people. They uphold the law of this country to the hilt. There is absolutely no evidence to show that these officers are involved in any kind of illegal activity,” the NUPW president reiterated.
Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith has said that border control officers were wittingly, or unwittingly, allowing illegal guns into the country.
There has been mounting public concern over escalating gun crimes here, with firearms having been used in 21 of the 25 murders committed so far this year, according to police.
Last month alone, there were five such deaths, the most recent on Tuesday night when cousins, Renaldo Gittens, 23, and Kyle Rico Sad Boy Burgess, 21, both of Eastpoint, St Philip were shot to death while liming at Marley Vale in the same parish.
Shedding further light on the union’s position as it relates to the installation of cameras at ports of entry, McDowall explained that the objections revolved around who would man the devices at the end point, given the sensitive nature of what was being discussed between the customs officer and persons coming before them.
“What they said is that whoever mans the camera would have to be absolutely confidential because we live a small society and everybody knows each other. We have to be careful about who we get to do these confidential jobs or take on these confidential tasks. That was the problem. The union was never against having cameras in the ports of entry. As a matter of fact, there are cameras at the airport, and there are cameras in the seaport as we speak. You have to make sure that the person at the end [manning the cameras] do not put the custom officer at risk.
“Understand the job of a customs officer. [They are] there to identify any kind of activity that is going against the laws of Barbados. So, they find people who have guns, they find people who have drugs, they have to go and interview these people . . . .If I am a drug dealer and I see that a particular officer has prevented me from importing my drugs, who ever mans the camera comes back to me and says, ‘it is this customs officer who stopped your goods from coming in’. Who is going to protect the customs officer after that?”
McDowall said he shared the view that the drugs and guns entering the island were not coming through the ports of entry, but rather through the porous areas on the island,
“We have a country and island that is surrounded by water. It therefore means that there are many access points around the country. There is a possibility that these guns could be coming through any of these points.
“There are many access point around this country and for us to single out that the guns are coming through the ports of entry without any kind of evidence is really unfair. I know we say it without thinking about the consequence . . . it is really unfair to those officers who man the ports of entry,” McDowall said.
However, he was quick to point out that if at any point there was evidence that officers were supporting the criminal activity in this country, “I support wholeheartedly as a unionist and the president of NUPW that that officer be disciplined to the fullness of the law.
“I will not support officers engaging in illegal activity, but similarly I will support officers who do an honest day’s work,” he said.