This is not the month of March but madness of unprecedented proportions has just been visited upon Barbados smack in the middle of August. And before it becomes a constitutional and procedural embarrassment, Government should immediately rethink its position.
It must be made abundantly clear that the person and entity responsible for enforcing law and order in Barbados are the Commissioner of Police and members of the Royal Barbados Police Force. They operate under the protection of the Constitution and the Police Act. If for some reason the Commissioner of Police is desirous of having the assistance of members of the Barbados Defence Force in carrying out functions normally within the constabulary’s remit in peace times, then this can be accommodated with the assent of the Governor General. But where law and order, and the protection and security of citizens and visitors are concerned, the buck stops at the office of the Commissioner of Police.
It is therefore somewhat alarming that Attorney General Dale Marshall this week announced that retired Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin, now very much a civilian, would be placed in charge of the security arrangements for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) at which a significant number of people are expected to attend. These are some of the comments made by Mr Marshall to justify this planned action.
“ . . . Former Commissioner Dottin was in charge of the Royal Barbados Police Force at the time of the Cricket World Cup and he had to do what he was doing then. But at that time we did not have over 30 shootings by mid-year, and we do now . . . It would be illogical of me to feel that I should ask the Commissioner of Police to, in addition to trying to grapple with the very sensitive security arrangements that we have to deal with in terms of firearms and so on, ask him to move away from those and spread his attention now to something like UNCTAD. That is silly.”
One wonders how will Mr Dottin take charge of this security and who will he be in charge of in terms of fulfilling this security mandate. No member of the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Defence Force, even the Regional Security System, is under any legal obligation to take instructions of any sort from a civilian as it relates to the provision of security. We do not believe that any self-respecting Commissioner of Police would cede the authority granted to him by law to a civilian and that is precisely what any leader of a police force would be doing if what is being promoted by Mr Marshall comes to fruition. Has Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith complained to Mr Marshall that he cannot handle the UNCTAD security? Police resources are not going to be drawn from Timbuktu so the local constabulary will be required for the UNCTAD security and could still be called into other national duties depending on the exigencies of the force. So what gibberish are Barbadians being fed?
But some history is required to place more perspective on this situation. In providing security for such events we are told that a sitting Commissioner of Police usually delegates one or more of his senior officers to manage day-to-day operations. A Commissioner of Police does not run from pillar to post personally supervising such security. Thus Mr Marshall’s suggestion that it would be illogical for him basically to saddle Mr Griffith with the UNCTAD security is claptrap that should be dismissed for what it is.
In April 1982, the Commissioner of Police Aviston Prescod delegated the operational responsibility for providing security for visiting US President Ronald Reagan to a senior gazetted officer. In 2001, then Commissioner of Police Grantley Watson delegated a gazetted officer to take operational responsibility for security related to the high-level meeting of Commonwealth Attorneys-General. In 2007, when Mr Dottin himself was the sitting Commissioner of Police, then recently retired assistant Commissioner of Police John Collymore took responsibility for regional security of the Cricket World Cup. But this was not a Barbados tournament, this was an International Cricket Council event held in a number of regional territories. And one of the comical memories from that, was the sight of police officers being physically searched by civilian guards as they entered Kensington Oval. These muddles often occur when roles become distorted.
The point being made here is that security for events such as the UNCTAD conference is par for the course for the Royal Barbados Police Force. Mr Marshall’s announced plan for the UNCTAD meeting could be interpreted as a slap in the face of Mr Griffith. We do not doubt the immense capabilities and qualities of Mr Dottin, despite his forced removal from the force. But this is not about Mr Dottin, per se, this is about police procedure, Barbados’ Constitution and the provisions of the Police Act.
No one begrudges Mr Dottin, or anyone else, any association with the present Government or the one that preceded it. But no Government should feed its citizens with verbal, gratuitous nonsense dressed in contrived necessity, especially when it could lead to the office of the Commissioner of Police being held up to public derision.