Saturday, April 13, 2024

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Sergeants don’t die!


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TODAY I return to the issue of gun violence in our community and the role of the police in making citizens and visitors feel safe in their homes, at their chosen places of business and entertainment as well as on the streets.

And my point this time around has more to do with our duty and responsibility as a society to ensure that our men and women of the law are protected in the best possible way when they are out on the streets trying to protect us.

When these officers, who are our brothers and sister, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers and our friends and neighbours, set out on their duty, quite often they put on an air of invincibility which, while it may help them make it through the rigours of the day, can betray the real vulnerability that comes with being human.

This is of particular concern to me, and ought to be for all decent, law-abiding citizens, given the apparently increasing number of persons among us who can so easily dismiss the dangers police officers face with a flippant “wuh dah is dum job”. I have seen repeated posts on Facebook in recent days that suggest policemen get paid to be shot at, so why is anyone complaining.

There is no denying that the job police personnel do naturally brings them into conflict with people every day and when a private citizen or a family member or close associate is at the receiving end, the tendency is to vent against everyone wearing the uniform or displaying the badge.

What seems increasingly prevalent is that the return to “reasonableness” which used to be the norm, seems to be disappearing with a high degree of rapidity.

So in the past when a policeman did something stupid, displayed uncouth behaviour, just simply issued a traffic ticket or legitimately executed an arrest, we would get upset and after a period of reflection we learnt to put it in context.

Today, it appears to me that a frightening number of us are walking around with an unhealthy and apparently undying dislike, even disdain, for policemen.

If you doubt me, follow the comments on social media after the crash in Fitts Village on Sunday evening involving a police jeep and an SUV driven by an individual who had apparently not stopped at a police checkpoint.

And this brings me to my primary point today: Is the high command of the force aware of and responding to this growing anti-police sentiment?

I am in no doubt that the majority of Barbadians still respect and support the police, even if they have a problem with specific individuals, but unfortunately it will only take one “unthinking” thug to create an incident with tragic consequences. It will only take one bullet from the gun of a reckless drug dealer protecting his merchandise to take the life of a lawman.

I have been paying close attention to police operations in recent times and am particularly concerned at the frequency with which individual lawmen appear unprepared for what might confront them.

In this environment, Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith must ensure that officers never embark on these tactical missions unless each is wearing a bulletproof vest.

In fact, I am thinking we are at, or quickly approaching, the stage where, in the interest of safety, a bulletproof vest should be mandatory for almost all operations other than office duty.

I have noted that female officers in particular seldom wear vests, even when all of their male colleagues are – perhaps suggesting the women can’t be shot?

The same often applies to sergeants and personnel of higher ranks. They are all engaged in stop and search operations or other clearly potentially dangerous missions, but you get the impression that the Master is paying closer attention to the senior ranks so they don’t need protection.

I could be wrong, but all my sources in the force (and I have many) tell me they are not aware the force is equipped with the type of vests that are worn under the shirts, so I take it for granted these men and women are 100 per cent exposed.

In the private sector, if an employer issues his workers with all the safety gear required and they still persist in executing the duty without wearing it, the Labour Department will still hold the company liable. Managers have a duty to compel workers to protect themselves while on the job.

I always look forward to a good news story, but I can do without one that reports the tragic shooting of a lawman. It’s time to put an end to this naked exposure of police officers. Every time I see it I cringe.

We may not be able currently to end their status as over-worked, under-paid and too often unappreciated public servants, but it is not beyond our means to ensure that every station, every formation, every division has enough bulletproof vests to cover every man and woman stationed there, regardless of his or her rank.



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