COMMENTARY: Sexual Overtures- Disciplinary Healing

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Police Headquarters on American Road

By Rowlston Pompey

As confusion continues to reign within the Police Service and its Commission (PSC),’ anxieties and uncertainties continue to affect personnel. These have been attributed to the apparent protractedness or inability or reluctance in the Police Service Commission in acting expeditiously and decisively. Anxious victims and a wary citizenry, patiently wait to see the matter resolved. Though not specified in the Disciplinary Code, ‘…sexually seductive advances,’ may fall under the offence ‘…Discreditable Conduct’ [Section A]. This speaks to undefined conduct that has the potential to bring the Police Service into disrepute and/or discredit to the entire organization.

GOVERNING CONSTITUTION

When the twin-island nation of ‘…Antigua and Barbuda’ gained political independence, it had effectively severed the umbilical cord of British colonial rule. For national sovereignty, the nation was provided with a ‘…Governing Constitution’ [Order No. 1106 of 1981]. In spite of the ‘…five founding constitutional principles’ governing administrations had either overlooked or ignored that which constitute the tenets for good governance. Foremost of these principles is one that states, ‘…Whereas as the people proclaim that they are a sovereign nation founded upon the principles that acknowledged (i) …the Supremacy of God; (ii) …the position of the family in a society of free men and women and free institutions’ [Principle A].

PERSPECTIVE

This commentary looks at one such institution- the constitutional body called the ‘…Police Service Commission (PSC).’ It particularly looks at its handling of allegations of ‘…Sexual Overtures,’ and measures considered for ‘…Disciplinary Healing.’ Yes healing! This often comes after a disciplinary hearing. It looks at its ‘…powers and responsibilities and that of the Commissioner of Police respecting disciplinary protocols and procedures.

SCANT ATTENTION

Public outcry for investigation into allegations against a ‘…senior officer’ appeared to have been given ‘…Scant Attention’ by the Police Service Commission (PSC). As reports of scandalous ‘…Sexual Overtures’ erupted within the Police Service, asked by  media personnel what the Police Service Commission should do, Barbadian attorney  and Chairman of his country’s Commission answered, ‘…There was no way the body could hide from its responsibility’ [Big Issues: March 12, 2018]. Lest it be misconstrued, the Commission has no investigative role in matters relating to Police discipline. Procedurally, matters of discipline are referred to it for determination. The Chairman, an attorney-at-law, is not its legal adviser. In discharging its functions, situationally and/or as circumstances dictate, it may discretely engage the services of an independent practising attorney.

TELEGRAPHED MESSAGE

Fraternizing in any organization is not only bad for discipline, but also the image of the organization. Though ‘…Sexual Overtures’ are considered inappropriate in workplaces, within this jurisdiction, without accompanying physical acts of indecency, these appeared to fall outside the realm of criminality [Section 15: Sexual Offences Act: No. 19 of 1995]. As much as it may have appeared that the Chairman was himself seeking refuge in the office of Public Safety Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, none may disagree that ‘…There was no way the body could hide from its responsibility’ [Observer Media: March 12, 2018]. The subtle ‘…Telegraphed Message’ to his Antiguan and Barbudan counterpart Chairman Kelvin John by attorney-at-law Richard Mayers, Chairman of the Barbados Police Service Commission (BPSC) and President of the Caribbean Police Welfare Association, Sergeant Brenton Smith (SVG) should have spurred him into expeditious investigation.

COMMAND AND CONTROL

Ministers of Government neither have responsibility for command, administrative, operational, nor are they vested with powers for disciplinary control of members of the Police Service. Such responsibilities are vested in the Commissioner of Police. For ease of reference, the law states ‘…A Commissioner of Police who, subject to the provisions of this Act and the general directions of the Minister, shall have the command and be responsible for the superintendence of the Force’ [Section 6: Police Act: Chapter 330]. There are two key elements in this Section (i) ‘…command and superintendence; and (ii) …general directions of the Minister.’ This allows for total command with directions of a general nature from the ‘…Minister to whom responsibility for Police is assigned’ [Section 2].

ORGANIZATIONAL JEOPARDY

The Scripture assures of a ‘…Place of refuge from storm and rain’ [Isaiah 4: 6]. For many members, the ‘Police Service Commission (PSC)’as a body, shall be seen as an avenue where personnel may seek refuge from ‘…Organizational Jeopardy.’ Through the Disciplinary Code, it allows for matters of indiscipline to be addressed, either by the ‘…Commissioner of Police or the Police Service Commission.’ Anticipating that subordinates may face ‘…oppression and tyranny,’ parliamentary disciplinarians inserted a special clause in the ‘…Scheduled of Offences.’ Thus, members of the Force who exhibit conduct capable of being viewed as ‘…oppressive or tyrannical toward an inferior in rank’ he is guilty of an offence [Section B (ii): PA: Chapter 330].

BREACHES OF DISCIPLINE

As it affects investigation into breaches of discipline, for ‘…subordinate ranks,’ statutory provisions empower the Commissioner of Police to delegate authority to cause investigations into ‘…reports, allegations or complaints of misconduct received on members subordinate to him.’ Thus, an investigator of, or above the rank of Sergeant solely determines whether or not an offending member should be disciplinary charged [Section 4: PA: Chapter 330]. Conversely, for ranks of, and above Sergeant, when a member has been charged, files are referred by the Commissioner of Police to the Police Service Commission (PSC). The body may hold disciplinary Tribunals and accordingly, make ‘…decisions.’

REFERRALS TO ‘PSC’

The Police Service Commission (PSC) is a constitutionally established body. Matters pertaining to the Police Service are referred to it, either for consideration or determination. In its functional realm, it has sole responsibility to address referrals either by the Commissioner of Police, or in exceptional circumstances, ‘…by subordinate members of the Police Service.’  The Constitution states that ‘…The powers to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in offices (within the Police Service) shall vest in the Police Service Commission’ [CO: 1981: Section 105].  In spite of varying backgrounds, the seven-member body comprising of men and women are of high intellect and repute.’ Among the membership is an attorney, holding the position of Chairman and three retirees from the Police Service. A small minority were only good for numerical value.’ Numbers often matter when quorums and consensus were most needed.

NATURAL JUSTICE

Though it is an independent body and vested with adjudicating powers, procedurally, referrals of disciplinary matters are made by the Commissioner of Police for ‘…ranks of, and above Sergeant to Deputy Commissioner of Police.’ For the rank of Commissioner of Police, the Commission may authorize investigations into conduct considered inappropriate or inconsistent with good discipline. Considering the principle of ‘…Natural Justice,’ the Commission may convene a tribunal, at the conclusion of which may necessitate the application of appropriate sanctions. Additionally, dependent upon the gravity of the conduct alleged, as opposed to holding a tribunal, there may just be a ‘…formal fact-finding hearing to determine,’ if any, what corrective measures are necessary and/or what sanctions might be imposed.

DUCKING AND HIDING

When it was reported that the ‘PSC’ was informed of the unwanted advancement, media attempts to seek confirmation had reportedly ended in futility. When he appeared to have been ‘…Ducking and Hiding’ from the ‘…victims; a probing media and curious citizens,’ Prime Minister Gaston Browne demonstrated that he had no desire of being sucked into the sordid affair. Guided by conventional wisdom, he quickly dispelled rumors of connivance in ignoring the matter. The Commission’s leadership has not only caused the Police Service further embarrassment, but also unease among the membership. Many officers were said to have been subjected to sustained public ridicule when discharging their duties. The vernacular and epithet have been described as outrageous. This may have been evident on a viraled video [Face book].

ACCUSATORY LETTERS

As circumstances may dictate, the Commission may delegate authority to ‘…any of its members or to the Commissioner of Police. Its responsibility should not be shirked and cannot be transferred’ [Proviso: Section 105]. Moreover, its powers cannot be ministerially delegated or usurped. Though he had initially resisted intervention into that which was outside his areas of responsibility, seemingly by a ‘…spun web of deception,’ Public Safety Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin had been sucked in. Likened to a fly entangled in a spider’s web, he had been inescapably caught. The professional and persuasive skills and fox-like cleverness of Chairman Kelvin John appeared to have been at work. Manifestations of these came when media reports revealed that he had acceded to a request to author and dispatch ‘…Accusatory Letters’ to an accused male senior officer [Observer Media: March 31, 2018].’

WRATH OF THE FLESH

With irrestible urges for ‘…pleasures of flesh,’ miscalculations, indiscretions and inappropriate behavior had often proved perilous to man. The experiences of many world leaders are innumerable. Even so, man continues to go after that which brings ‘…pleasure; …sometimes pain, punishment and embarrassment. Former United States President William ‘Bill’ Clinton [Wikipedia: December 19, 1998] and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi 81 have been a living examples of ‘…Wrath of the Flesh.’ Both had suffered grave indignities.’ Men of high intellect, influence and wealth, their world crumbled when they were impeached or convicted of illicit sexual relationships or intercourse [Associated Press: June 24, 2013]. Conduct akin to these may have serious implications for an officer alleged to have made ‘…sexual advances to male officers subordinate to him’ [ANR: March 31, 2018].

SEXUAL GRATIFICATION

Few organizations, secular or religious, are without scandals. Few are free of individuals who may not seek to prey on the unsuspecting, as they hasten to exploit the innocent for ‘…Sexual Gratification.’ This has been the modus operandi of many sex-predators desirous of sexual pleasures. Most seemed guided by the cliché, ‘…Any port for a storm.’ In spite of prohibitive laws, people with dispositions for ‘…same-sex affair,’ continue to show emboldened openness. In spite of prohibitive laws, desire for ‘…abnormal sexual intercourse’ continues to permeate global societies. Existing buggery law interprets it as, ‘…Sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person, or by a male person with a female person.’ Prescriptive penalties range from life imprisonment, if (i) …committed by an adult on a minor; (ii) …fifteen years if committed by an adult on another adult; and (iii) …five years if committed by a minor’ [Section 12: Sexual Offences Act: No. 9 of 1995].

LEGAL FICTION

When attempts were made to give ‘…fictional legal interpretations to Spouse,’ rightly or wrongly the citizens became enraged. They had found it ludicrous that if ‘…two males or two females’ shared dwelling together, the law considered them to be a ‘…spouse of each other.’ Even as allegations have been made, members of the Police Service may not necessarily have benefitted from such interpretations. Even as mover of the Bill, former Attorney General Justin L. Simon QC, understood the mischief, there were parliamentary rebuffs. Citizens saw such interpretations as having the potential to prompt the inevitable‘…unwanted or objectionable sexual overtures.’ The Police Service Commission (PSC) now faced with a situation, appeared to have been placed in a state of …uncertainty and indecision.’

PARLIAMENTARY MISCHIEF

Though such was never intended and never the ‘…Parliamentary Mischief’ aimed,’ members clearly starved of commonality of understanding provided their own interpretations. Former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer appeared embarrassingly baffled. There were cheers when former Education Minister Bertrand Joseph, making pun of the fiction, suggested that it was ‘…concubinage of every shape or form; …It covers everybody.’ Former House Speaker D. Gisele Isaacs found it ‘…rather progressive.’ Commonsense prevailed. Recognizing the ‘…Supremacy of God’ and succumbing to public pressure, the controversial interpretations were removed.

SEXUAL OVERTURES

In most organizations ‘…Sexual Overtures’ have not only been growing with increased frequency, but also with unimaginable rampancy. Many such overtures were found to have caused provocation and vexation to the human spirit. Nationally, that which appeared to have recently outraged the citizenry has been ‘…male to male sexual harassment allegations.’ These were said to have involved a ‘…senior officer within the Police Service.’ Instances of indiscipline among ‘…Gazetted or Senior Police officers’ are rare. The developments, likened to a leaky cesspool, had not shook the pillars of Police discipline, but also flowed disgustedly into the public domain. This has resulted in featured discussions on talk-radio; …street-corners; …marketplaces and religious pulpits and news portals.’

INDECISIVE LEADERSHIP

Equally as much as it has been said that ‘…procrastination is the thief of time,’ so too, has been delinquency. These have featured prominently among the causes of human frailties and miseries. None may argue over its constitutional responsibilities and functions [Section 104]. There is no constitutional authority or statutory provisions for those assigned ‘…ministerial responsibilities’ to intervene in investigations on matters of ‘…Police Discipline.’ It is insulated from the Executive arm of Government, and enjoys some measure of functional independence. Some Chair persons often gave contrary impressions. In cases whenever an authority had (a) ‘…acted hastily and improperly; or (b) …slow to act or (c) …refused to act,’ confusion often reigns. In any case, these have prompted suspicion and dissatisfaction. Seemingly labored under  ‘…Indecisive Leadership,’ the seven-member Commission appeared to have disguisedly aborted or shifted its responsibilities to Public Safety Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin.

MEDIA INQUIRY

Though Chairman Kelvin John has no legal obligations to discuss police indiscipline in public or divulge details on disciplinary incidents, he may have caused discomfiture to Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Attorney General and Public Safety Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin. A ‘…Media Inquiry’ had forced them into acknowledging awareness of a single incident [OMG: March 13, 2018]. While members of the Executive shall steer clear of the sordid affair, the media continued to probe. Except confirmation of existing reports, neither had obligations to divulge details of that which may have been ‘…informally or formally’ communicated to them. Both had made it sufficiently clear that the body charged with responsibility for exercising disciplinary control over certain ranked-members of the Police Service (Sergeants to Commissioner of Police) was the Police Service Commission (PSC) [CO. 1981: Section 105].

TRUST OR TREACHERY

On any Commission, it was always going to be challenging for a Chairman to avoid leaks. Members of society became frantic and frowned over leaked reports of ‘…abnormal sexual overtures’ within the Police Service. Likened to wildfire, rumors quickly saturated the airwaves with suggestions that the Chairman had convened an emergency meeting with the seven-member Commission, before meeting separately with the Public Safety Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin and Prime Minister Gaston Browne. The ‘PSC’ reportedly made no attempt in allaying fears of victims or in satisfying media inquisitiveness and public curiosity. Whether for reasons of ‘…Secrecy, Trust or Treachery,’ reasonable inferences may have been drawn that after the unscheduled meeting with the Public Safety Minister, he was not to be made aware of a second meeting at another venue. The Chairman appeared to have been caught like a ‘…Rat in a Trap.’ Naturally, questions will have been posed to these Ministers.

NON-INTERVENTION

As much as there has been no evidence that a snare was set for Prime Minister Gaston Browne, he appeared not to have been careful not to get entangled. Taking an early ‘…Non-Intervention’ stance, he had judiciously advised himself that the matter was ‘…one for the Commission’ [March 13, 2018]. Amid victim’s outrage, public disquiet and media inquiry, it was obvious that the body charged with responsibility for disciplinary control of members the Police Service, was likened to a drifting rudderless ship. When reports surfaced that the Commission had met with him, the media had its version of that which may or may not have transpired. With candor and consistency in accommodating the media, yet careful not to be reckless with the truth, Prime Minister Gaston Browne revealed that ‘…It was the Commission that had invited me to a meeting; …I was told there is nothing formal, to this date, before the Commission.’ Even with these assertions, the Chairman continues to be secretive, indecisive and evasive. To date, the Commission has shown ambivalence in addressing the allegations against the ‘…senior officer.’

CONCLUSION

Most Police Commissioners are mindful of ‘…Sir Robert Peel’s policing principles’ [1829]. One of which states ‘…The test of Police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder; not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them’ [Principle 9: Wikipedia]. There is no doubt that not only much is at stake, but also under serious threat. Since allegations of ‘…Sexual Overtures’ may have debilitating effect on morale and performance and public attitude, law enforcement authorities must create an enabling environment in which personnel may have little reasons to fall into a state of apathy. Foremost is protection of, inter alia, the ‘…image, reputation and integrity; …need for stability within the organization; …building character; …eliminating disaffection; …self-awareness; …harmonizing relations; …boosting morale; …promoting cohesiveness and camaraderie among members; …enhancing their professionalism; …forging strong links with the public and communities, as to earn their respect, trust and confidence.’ Then there is need for developing a functional approach, necessary to enlist unwavering support and cooperation.’ Finally, the leadership shall know that, there has always been need of an enabling environment; one conducive to effectively combat crime and violence. Thus, a well-trained and highly motivated Police Service is critically important to citizen safety and the ‘…Rule of Law.’ ***

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow! When people vacillate it causes others to wonder whether it is a matter of being incompetent or being ill-informed on matters of the law. Which ever view is taken, I daresay that all eyes will be on the Police Service Commission to see what their investigations have netted. May Justice run its correct course with no hazy areas in between.

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