GUEST COLUMN: Who are they: Law enforcement or robbers?

(Cincinnati Enquirer

(By Rawlston Pompey)

In some Middle Eastern, African and European countries, ‘…heavily armed and masked, speaks to terror and human carnage. At carnival time, it is about ‘…Mas’ and Music.’ On city streets, communities, by-ways and highways, it is about ‘…Masks and Gunmen.’  Regionally, when people speak to ‘…Masked Gunmen, they are speaking to persons roaming streets, back alleys and communities, in readiness to prey on innocent and unsuspecting victims. Behind masks are possible ‘…robbers; …rapists; …kidnappers and killers.’ In their eyes is fire; …in their hearts is evil, while in their hands lies the ‘…Weapon of Death.’ Though citizens are fully aware of that which has the potential to cause pain and sorrow, they cannot identify persons hiding their identity behind masks. Many have been as ruthless and merciless, as they have been brutal and deadly.


Those who vigorously investigate crime know, that equally as much as they have ‘…Secret Eyes,’ criminals also have them. It is to professional knowledge that they do. Those, particularly engaged in organized crimes, have ‘…human satellites and radars; …GPS and drones.’ They are controlled, not only by money, but also by ‘…Threat of Death.’ They are known to monitor movements of personnel. Invariably, they gather (i) …names and addresses of personnel, family members and associates; …vehicles driven and places frequent.’ Thus, it would be naïve to believe that targeted criminals do not gather intelligence on law enforcement. They possess communications and navigational skills, and operate with sophistication. Invariably, these ‘…human gadgets’ may fail them, and then they are led into the clutches of the law.


This commentary looks at possible implications for both law enforcement and the citizenry by those ‘…Wearing Masks.’ It speaks to both ‘…Overt and Covert operations, whether by Police personnel in crime prevention and detection or members of the ‘ONDCP,’ dealing with the‘…Specified offences,’ contained in the related Acts.’ Undeniably, but commendably so, the ‘ONDCP,’ a secondary law enforcement agency has been taking the fight to suspected drug traffickers and money launderers. Their highly successful operations speak to their effectiveness and sustained efforts. While it is true that people attired in uniforms may not necessarily be bona fide members of a particular agency or acting in the lawful execution of their duties, overt operations, where identity is concealed under masks, could pose grave difficulties to law enforcement and law abiding citizens.


None shall be confused with ‘…Overt and Covert Operations.’ They are conducted for different reasons; one lawful with participants identifiable; the other illegal, with concealed identity. Likened to the extrovert, he exhibits conduct to be seen, while the introvert leaves the mind to speculate, for he exhibits no conduct to attract attention. He is secretive. Thus, overtly, there is high visibility. Equally as much as the ‘…faces of suspected persons shall be visible to law enforcement, so too is a suspect’s right to see faces for recognition and confirmation of ‘…operational presence.’ Those professionally trained in law enforcement appreciates the importance in making clear distinction between ‘…legality and illegality.’ At trial, it is about, ‘…positive identification; …admissibility and irrefutability of evidence.’ While there may be procedural deviation, evidentially, there shall be no doubt in the minds of adjudicators or Juries. For where a doubt is reasonable, justice demands that it is resolved in favor of an accused, even if it appeared that he was ‘…guilty as hell.’


Internationally, masks are worn by law enforcement personnel in carrying out ‘…Covert Operations.’ The nature of these operations, speak to ‘…acts of illegality’ for the purposes of obtaining intelligence pertaining to criminal enterprise or terrorists or to infiltrate organizations to better understand their operations, membership identity and positional status. These operations necessarily call for ‘…concealed identity; …secrecy and stealth.’ The recent incident involving members of the organization called the ‘…Movement and an undercover plainclothes Police officer’ at its indoor membership meeting at the ‘…Sea Breeze Night Club,’ speaks not only to his ‘…overt yet unrecognized presence.’ When his cover was blown, and refused to leave, pandemonium broke out. Several months later, ill-advisedly, if not ‘…Impulsive Stupidity,’ he instituted criminal proceedings for ‘Battery’ (beating a Police officer) against members who reportedly attempted to eject him from the meeting [OMG: December 14, 2016].


While nothing is beyond the criminal elements, and while law enforcement shall operate within the realm of law, nothing shall also be seen as beyond their capacity in eliminating danger. In combat, there has always been casualties and collateral-damage. Some combatants will be dead; … some half dead; …some seriously wounded, while some will be unscathed.’ These are obtained in law enforcement. Though many citizens may have harbored feelings of apprehension, a reasonably high percentage often cooperate with law enforcement. Therefore, criminals shall not have a ‘…psychological advantage’ over the citizens, simply because law enforcement personnel have shown apprehension of vengeful attacks. When law enforcement personnel or members of the national Police Services, harbor intimidatory feelings or showed or expressed timidity, not only does it send confusing messages to law-abiding citizens, but also ‘…Capitalizing Signals’ to criminals.


Many people will have seen documentaries on law enforcement operations in different jurisdictions. The content may also have revealed running gun battles between law enforcement and lawless and trigger-happy gunmen. They would have seen streets ‘…Flooded with Blood’ and littered with casualties, ‘…some wounded; …some half dead and some dead.’ Scenes like these often induce fear and anxieties in law-abiding citizens. Nationally, citizens would have seen operations carried out by law enforcement agencies that would have been less alarming, less frightening and less deadly. However, that which have triggered frightening concerns in citizens, was the unprecedented ‘…wearing of facial attire by law enforcement,’ frequently worn by armed robbers in their criminal exploits.


While members of the particular agency will know themselves, citizens will be placed in the most vulnerable position. Apart from the Police Service, headed by a ‘…Commissioner of Police; [Police Act: Chapter 330], the other law enforcement agencies are either headed by a ‘…Comptroller; …Chief Immigration officer; …civilianized employees called ‘…Traffic Wardens’ of the Statutory Corporation, Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board. In the case of the ONDCP, a ‘…Director’ heads that agency. As it affects enforcement of the …Vehicles and Road Traffic (Enforcement and Administration) Act [Chapter 461] there is parallel enforcement with the Statutory Corporation, the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB) [No.13 of 1995].


The ‘ONDCP,’ a civilianized law enforcement agency, even as it enforces law, it has no responsibility for the ‘…Rule of Law’ or the prevention and detection of crime. Such responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Commissioner of Police. As it affects parallel operations, it has limited functionality with the national Police Service. Anomalously, the ‘…Tactical Team’ may execute powers that reside not with the Commissioner of Police. For instance, under its governing Act, they have wide powers of (i) ‘…Entry and search of private property without a warrant, with reasonable suspicion of the commission of a specified offence’ [ONDCP: No.11 of 2003: Section 17]; (ii) …The Director may take bail of arrested persons, with or without surety [Section 19]; clearly a judicial function.


Another anomalous provision is that ‘…reasonable force may be used against arrested persons refusing to allow ‘…measurements; …photographs; …fingerprints and foot impressions to be taken’ for evidential purposes [Section 22]. For the same purposes, the Police shall make a gentle request and an arrested person might gently refuse. The investigator may then seek an order from the Magistracy for these to be coercively, but lawfully taken [Section 30: Police Act: Chapter 330]. The ‘ONDCP,’ primarily deals with ‘…Specified Offences. These speaks to ‘…Strict Liability,’ where the critical element ‘…intent or mens rea’ is not required in proving cases; – ‘…possession; …knowledge and control shall be proved beyond reasonable doubt These offences are contained in the laws governing ‘…Drug trafficking/interdiction; …Money Laundering; …Terrorism Financing’ and other related offences.


In the Police Service [Section 44: Police Act: Chapter 330], as with the Military, there are legally specified uniforms that bona fide members shall wear only in the performance of duty. Even Courts have conspicuously placed Notices of ‘…Dress Codes’ for public information and compliance. Where there is no regulatory agency dress Code, ill-conceived or ill-advised or inappropriate as the wearing of ‘Ski Masks’ may have been was clearly a calling by Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Thus, where there was ‘…Situational Necessity,’ there may be no law. Though there exists no law against the wearing of masks, law enforcement agencies might still be careful of that which they wear on their faces publicly. For the sight of masked men or gunmen, by stretch of imagination, speak to fright and terror. They have induced panic and fear, and even without the sound of gunfire, people tremble and run for cover.


It has been widely known that as far as ‘…Criminality and Terrorism’ are concerned, the use of masks has always been for the purposes of concealing identity. Against deadly gun attacks, while some protective vests offer some bodily protection, masks of whatever description are not impenetrable. Thus, none may harbor illusions that the ‘…wearing of masks is the same as wearing protective vests.’ When criminals impersonate members of the Security Forces, it makes it extremely difficult for law abiding and unsuspecting citizens to differentiate those with lawful membership in these forces. Similarly, when members of law enforcement adorn in facial apparel associated with criminals, and clad in an agency’s uniforms, it poses grave difficulties for identification and/or distinguishing ‘…Law enforcers and robbers.’


People smartly attired in ‘…Jacket and Tie,’ may not necessarily be looked at the same way as someone dressed in ‘…Jacket and Mask.’ Baggy and ‘hoodie’ clothing, often provides concealment of identity and deadly weapons, particularly, sawn of shot guns. None, therefore, may underestimate the capability of criminals wearing such clothing and masks. Applied to law enforcement, personnel will never be comfortably received by citizens whose facial identity is concealed by masks. Such person, actual or perceived, will always be placed under radar as a ‘…robber.’ When former Police Corporal Alexis ‘Big Foot’ Thomas 39, allegedly attempted to finger the cashier’s float at the downtown ‘…Paradise Casino,’ if his ‘brain was as big as his foot,’ he would have known that where there are armed Security Guards, there are bullets. Armed with his service weapon and wearing a ‘…hooded jacket and mask,’ he made a daring, but unsuccessful attempt at hoisting the ‘…Cashier’s Float’ [July 22, 2014].


Tragedy almost struck, when an alert colleague reacted with rapid gunfire that sent him sprinting with ‘…abrasions and a bullet reportedly lodged in his body.’ Had it not been for a ‘…protective vest,’ worn under the hoodie, not executing lawful duty, there may have been a flagless-draped coffin and possibly, a slow processional march to the St. John’s Public Cemetery.’ Cognizance of the evidential value of the ‘…non-exit bullet’ and seeking to ‘…defeat the ends of justice,’ he reportedly denied requests and medical advice to have it extracted [September 24, 2015]. Partially successful in appealing the conviction of ‘…Attempted Robbery,’ the Appellate Court compassionately reduced the trial Judge’s 23-year sentence to eighteen years [ABS TV: November 8, 2016]. In addition to the guilty-plea conviction of former Police Constable Gideon Jackson of manslaughter in the senseless and cold-blooded killing of service station attendant, Dorothy Prince 39, [February 17, 2012], ‘…Big Foot’s Conviction further strengthened citizen’s belief, that members of the ‘Security Forces’ have been engaging in activities not akin to legality.


There have been extensive debates over the wearing of ‘…Masks’ by law enforcement of facial apparel, well known to have been ‘…frequently worn by robbers and terrorists.’ When members of the Office National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP), were reportedly seen wearing ‘…Ski Masks’ on a perfectly lawful drug interdiction operation, public reactions were not only swift, but also negative. The issue of ‘public trust’ appeared to have been the concerns of many, in the light of frequent reports of sighting of ‘…heavily armed men dressed in dark clothing emblazoned ‘…ONDCP.’ Earlier debunking previous suggestions of criminality among members, seeking to appease suspicious minds, Director of the ‘ONDCP’ Lieutenant Colonel Edward Croft, provided the rationale as simply for ‘…concealing the identity and protection of agency members’ [ABS: January 4, 2018]. Even so, such rationale appeared to have failed to halt the discussions or eliminate harbored suspicions.


In the light of the law enforcement prompts for crime prevention and detection,’…See something- Say something,’ this may now prove difficult for citizens to distinguish ‘…Cops from Robbers.’ Among the ‘…Fundamental Questions’ must be ‘…Should law enforcement masks in overt operations? (ii) …Is the wearing of masks in overt operations an aid to crime prevention or detection? (iii) …Are masks effective in staving off instantaneous or surprised vengeful attacks?  (iv) …Should citizen’s sightings of uniformed armed masked men assume they are members of the Military, Police or the ONDCP? (v) …Should sightings be reported to the Police? (vi) …Should the Police assume that such persons are members of the Security Forces? (vii) …Should they ignore such reports? (viii) …Reasonably assuming imminent attack, should citizens compromise their safety when being pursued in darkly tinted, unmarked or numberless vehicles?


Should the citizens advised themselves on repelling possible attacks, using whatever means available; and …Should they compromise the safety of others, driving like dare- devils to escape apprehended attacks? Then (i) …What if the Police encounter masked gunmen dressed in uniform, emblazoned ‘ONDCP,’ (ii) …Should they assume the men to be members of the Security Forces? (iii) …Should they challenge them to ascertain their identity? (iv) …What if the approach triggered a gun battle, resulting in collateral-damage/death, who shall be apportioned blame? There are no easy answers. For in ‘…darkly tinted vehicles’ and behind masks with guns in hand, lies inescapable danger. Besides, ‘…mistaken or concealed identity’ may not only lead to ‘…grief, but also funerals public inquiries.’ Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Assistant Commissioner of Police Donavan Graham and Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington may not only attest these facts, but also to the horrors of facing public inquiries [Jamaica Observer: May 23, 2010].


If appreciable bites ought to be taken out of crime, then criminals ought to be given lessons that crime does not pay. Citizens are often aware of the activities of criminals. While some are willing to cooperate, some are apprehensive of possible consequences. Overwhelmed by fear, many remained silent. Hence, they ‘…See nothing; …Hear nothing and …Say nothing.’ It may have been for this reason, together with waning confidence that law enforcement came up with the participative crime prevention/ detection prompt, ‘…If you see something; …Say something.’ Thus, if the prompts ‘…If you see something;…Say something’ are to be productively meaningful, since the wearing of masks is not a strategy in overt operations, mask-wearing agencies and those not wearing masks, shall sit with the National Security and Police Minister to ‘…Workout something.’ In that way, citizens might just be encouraged to ‘…Say something.’


An overt operation conducted on the Sir George H. Walter Highway by the ‘…Tactical Team’ of the ‘ONDCP,’ may have been aptly described as a spectacle. The modus operandi of the men attired in dark-blue uniforms, emblazoned ‘…ONDCP,’ some with faces reportedly concealed under ski masks, would have been consistent with armed robbery. The operation was said to have been as dramatic as may have been seen in television documentaries. Though the unfolding events were believed to have been a ‘…daring daylight highway robbery,’ it has been recorded as ‘…highly commendable successful Overt Drug Interdiction Operation (ODIO).’ As the acronym suggests, it was an operation conducted by the ‘ONDCP, which among its statutory functions, is ‘…Drug interdiction’ [ANU: January 3, 2018].


When ‘…masked and heavily armed gunmen’ were sighted wearing uniforms similar to those of the Security Forces, ‘…Military; … Police and ONDCP,’ speculations were rife that their members were not only in breach of the law, but also of their duty to ‘…protect and serve the citizens.’ Then when ‘…heavily armed lawmen attired in dark emblazoned ‘ONDCP’ uniform and ski masks,’ appeared on the Sir George H. Walter Highway, curious onlookers assumed that, irrespective of agency, robbers were on the attack. Though there had been no gun battles between those wearing ‘ONDCP-like uniform’ and the Security Forces, there were high expectations of a vicious gun battle. The onlookers kept out of harm’s way and safely positioned themselves from possible stray bullets. Then quickly, they rolled their mobile phone cameras to capture the ‘…Dramatic Moments’ [January 3, 2018].


The unfolding events, reportedly watched by several onlookers, appeared to have rehashed previously harbored thoughts of law enforcement involvement in criminality. Such thoughts may have been erroneous. By the time the media, albeit sketchy and inaccurate, reported a ‘…daring daylight hold-up on the Sir George H. Walter Highway,’ the lone occupant, intercepted in a motor vehicle with a suspected large quantity of a controlled powdery substance, had been whisked away to the ‘ONDCP’ Headquarters. The operation had four significant operational features (i) ‘…Surprise; …Disguise; …Surgical and Speed (SDS).’ None including National Security Minster Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin and Police Commissioner Wendell Robinson had the slightest inklin. In these operations, the applicable principle has always been ‘…Only who needs to know.’ This usually comes after. This reverses the command, ‘…Obey orders and complain after.’


Eyewitnesses accounts suggested that employing the element of surprise, and an ambush in cluster of bush nearby, the targeted vehicle, driving normally along, was hotly pursued, overtaken and blocked. When the operation was over, it netted one suspect and a quantity of cocaine weighed some ‘…740 pounds with an estimated underworld market value of EC$11 million dollars’ [ANR: January 4, 2018]. Not knowing the identity of the men behind the ‘Ski Masks’ worn in full public view, even when the acronym ‘…ONDCP’ was visible, it had provoked reasonable suspicion that those so attired were armed bandits. Intercepting the vehicle and detaining the lone occupant,’ the operation had not only come to an anti-climax end, but also left onlookers startled, and members of the wider society in a ‘…Web of Confusion.


Even as the wearing of Ski masks’ had triggered public alarm, there exists no law prohibiting citizens from wearing masks. However, such facial apparel may lead to law enforcement intervention, particularly in a place where there was no snow to keep faces warm. Moreover, in a society where only robbers were known to use them to conceal their identity in the commission of crime, the very sighting of armed masked men, speaks to acts of criminality. In the instant case, citizens had expressed concerns or had reservations over the wearing of ‘…Ski Masks’ by law enforces. Incidentally, the masks neither aided the operation, nor has any evidential or probative value in the pending criminal proceedings. Even so, whether or not, attired in uniforms or plainclothes, both investigators and arresting officers and witnesses will not be allowed to wear masks, neither on the Court’s precinct, nor in the Court Rooms.’


It has been a well recognized judicial practice that the ‘…identity of accused persons and witnesses’ shall be established before the Courts. More importantly, Judges, Juries and Defence attorneys’ shall always observe ‘…demeanor and facial expressions.’ These often indicate when witnesses might be ‘…committing perjury or attempting to conceal or show sparseness in the truth.’ While citizens and accused persons may complain about ‘facial wear,’ those facing trial always have far more serious matters to worry about. In criminal proceedings, adjudicators are primarily concerned with, inter alia, “…the evidence adduced; …substantiating evidence; relevancy and admissibility; …reliability and cogency.’ These often aid Juries in determining ‘…innocence or guilt.’ Constitutionally, irrespective of the crime or offence, every accused person enjoys the ‘…Presumption of Innocence’ [CO: 1981: Section 15 (2)].


Danger has constantly been lurking. Likened to politics, law enforcement is not a ‘…Profession for Cowards.’ Where potential danger looms, while law enforcement may not necessarily be pre-occupied with fear, in the lawful execution of duty, confronting criminals necessarily mean gaining psychological advantage. In further developing the point on ‘…Psychological Advantage,’ one may reflect upon the fearless attitude of former Police investigator Assistant Commissioner of Police Clayton Davis of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) make the point of that which constantly lurks. Wearing no masks, fearing none, yet he took no unnecessary risks. However, single-handedly and collectively, he took the fight to ‘…rapists and robbers and drug traffickers, dealers, pushers and users.’ He was unrelenting and showing strength of character. Then in an almost deadly turn of events, under cover of darkness, unidentified gunmen riddled his front door of his dwelling house with bullets [1986].


Conscious of constant and lurking danger, then Commissioner of Police Sir Wright F. George KCN, unhesitatingly issued him a ‘…big iron’ for self-protection and that of his family. There is no doubt that members of the ONDCP have access to far more ‘…bigger irons.’ He knew that quitting would not eliminate danger or prevent the ‘…Wrath of Criminals.’ He persevered and worked diligently and prevailed to head the Department. In the wee hours of the morning, a deeply committed member, Corporal Wendel Audain, responding to the desperate screams of terrified female. She was trapped under the nozzle of a masked gunman. He had reportedly intruded her space and privacy. Then with the element of surprise, he was ‘…wounded in the leg with fragments of bone protruding the flesh.’ Wincing in pain, he crawled away from further attack and survived to continue in the Police Service [March 20, 2007].


Lest it be misunderstood, the sustained battering from cricket balls is incomparable to ‘…bullets from guns.’ Exhibiting these attributes ‘cricket combat,’ five West Indian batsmen, ‘…Clive Lloyd; Gordon Greenidge; …Desmond Haynes; …Alvin Kalicharan and Sir Isaac V. A. Richards,’ have shown exceptional‘…Courage and Determination.’ Facing up to the ‘…fearsome Australian speed-twin,’ Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, they were baptized with a barrage of bumpers. While others secured their heads from vicious and fierce rising deliveries, Sir Viv and Kali, removed the ‘…psychological advantage’ from the bowlers. With counter-aggressive ease, they began to dispatch the balls to the boundary. Though left with soreness, abrasions and pain neither had ‘…rubbed or winced nor ran.’


Even as the tendency has often been to react to situations, some strikes must be preempted. While life-threatening dangers exist, personnel may not unnecessarily pre-occupy themselves with fear. Combatants go into them courageously and purposefully. The challenges will be many and dangers will be grave. And if ‘…fear is a factor,’ for wearing masks, then its members will be better advised to cooperate and collaborate more with their counterpart-agencies. Even as the ‘ONDCP’ has been operationally successful, members appeared not to have mustered the ‘…psychological advantage’ necessary for self-motivation and protection. In wearing ski masks and speaking to concealment of identity and protection,’ is indirectly speaking to fear of vengeful responses. In spite of misgivings and/or distrust, the ‘ONDCP Act’ provides functional guidance. Thus, if inter-agency cooperation is to be strengthened, then such guidance may help in future overt operations [Section 10 (1) (e) & 12 (1) (a): No.11 of 2003].  *****