Is local press hurting police investigations?

Police Commissioner Vernon Francois with ACP Frances Henry.

Unwittingly, there seems to have been a paradigm shift, placing the burden of truth solely on the shoulders of the media by the police. On the police’s part comes a bit more openness, spearheaded lately by ACP for Crime Frances Henry, who over the past few months has built a cordial, yet professional relationship with the media. Ironic though, this at a time when the media has had to report on some “misdeeds” by the police, including one of alleged acts of lewdness by a reserve police officer just last week, against his own daughter.

There was also the case of one of their own, Lucan Lesmond was shot and killed, his wife charged with the incident. Officer Lesmond was laid to rest on Monday. Conversely, at least two media personnel found themselves on the wrong side of the law in the past months, drawing some kind of sensitivity on the part of both parties. That aside, without preaching censorship, ACP Henry has been admonishing and cautioning the media about the manner in which they report on crime cases particularly those under investigation, without hampering the work of the police. Some of this may have fallen on deaf ears, as on Monday at least one media house reported that three men had been charged in a particular homicide. The story reportedly cited the police press office as the source of the information. This has since been denied by the press officer. Last week Friday, during a press briefing ACP Henry told the media that “everyone has a part to play.” “It was Robert Peele,” she said, “who indicated that the only distinction between the police and the public is that we are paid to do a job which is incumbent upon every citizen to ensure their own security and safety.”

Commenting at the time on the sharp increase in homicides, Henry told reporters that the police was very confident that the (crime) situation was under control. “As has been indicated before, we have met at the executive level. Our response is in following these two weeks of incidents and it is very apparent that we have increased our boots on the ground.” Of the most recent homicides three men were as of last Friday viewed as “persons of interests” and were being interviewed by the police in the case of 43-year-old Tathenao Eugene. On Friday, September 7, 2012 the lifeless body of Eugene was discovered in some bushes at Forestierre. In two of the recent homicides, one at Dennery, the other in Bois d’Orange Henry disclosed that they were both active investigations although no arrests have been made. “One of the major challenges for us is that the lone survivor (in the Bois d’Orange case) during his recovery period at the hospital, every attempt by police to interview him met with some form of resistance,” she says.

The police, however, scored success in their fight against illicit drugs last Wednesday when a major bust was enacted off the coast of Soufriere. “This was a collaborative effort,” Henry says, “with the Marine Unit, the drug squad and the RSS getting involved.” Two individuals, one of Grande Riviere, Gros Islet and another of Anse La Raye were found on the vessel with what appeared to be 67 blocks (73 Kilos) of white substance which appeared to be cocaine. Both men have since been charged and are awaiting trial.

Last weekend the homicides number climbed to 29 with two separate incidents. On the morning of Saturday September 15, taxi driver Victor Mortley was found dead near his home in the Marchand area. The other incident involved security officer Fabian Joseph of Morne Dudon who was fatally shot by another security officer, on the G4S compound. With the media feeding the insatiable appetite of the public to know “who did what” in these and other cases there is often not only a rush to judgment but a rush not to get it right but get it first.

At a workshop here in May held to build relationship between the media and the police, presenter Stephen Davis during his presentation went through the ‘ABCDEF’ essential to fostering good police-media relations: access, briefing, credibility, dialogue, explanation and follow-up. While both parties seem to agree, for now on the A and B the C of both sides raises questions. And certainly this calls for continued dialogue, explanation and following up in the pursuit of the truth.

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