Top Cop reassures officers!

In an interview aired last week on Radio Caribbean International police commissioner Vernon Francois asked the media to listen closely to his comments from the first official police general meeting for 2012. Though he made it clear he was making no apologies for what was said at the meeting last week, Francois felt he was being misinterpreted.
The remarks by the island’s police commissioner were enough to prompt a public response from human rights advocate Mary Francis whose name was repeatedly brought up as Francois discussed the US State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2011. Francis felt the commissioner’s remarks were a move to intimidate her and undermine the work of human rights defenders. On that basis Francis said last week that she would make an international appeal for her protection.
“I think it was well intended to catch the attention of the public,” Francis told the STAR. “He kept referring to the majority of persons being supportive of the police. I am saying this has an element of mob rule in it when you speak about the majority of St Lucians being supportive of police actions. The majority may not always be right in St Lucia where a lot of people are ignorant of the judicial process.”
Though careful review of the tape would find several references to Francis in the commissioner’s remarks the purpose of the meeting held last week was to improve the lines of communication of the police department and to speak on issues affecting the force.
“When I came on the job I made a promise to ensure we had regular meetings and this is the first opportunity we had for the year to have a general meeting,” Francois said. “I want it to be as interactive as can be. I want you to make your contribution on issues impacting you; it’s your opportunity to interact with senior officers from the force and other police officers.”
The police commissioner commended officers for “very great work” in 2011 and said: “I think it has reflected itself in a safer St Lucia because if you walk about you hear people speak in a very praiseworthy way about the efforts of the police department in terms of making St Lucia a safer place; there’s a greater sense of safety. Myself and other officers can provide the leadership but the work on the streets is really your work. The majority of St Lucians are thankful for your efforts.
“But there are people like the Mary Francis’ of this world who love to find you so weak, your performance,” he continued. “You need not worry much about her, like I said the majority of St Lucians think we’re doing good work. We just need to keep doing our work in a professional manner because our work is always subject to review.”
Delving straight away into the matters that haunted the work of the force, Commissioner Francois said if officers were involved with a police killing or other acts involving police officers there was need for officers to be able to justify their actions.
“Act in a professional manner so that when the time comes for you to account for what you do, you’ll be able to do it,” he implored. “You should not be based on the pronouncements of a very few people like Mary Francis and Company; let that [not] deter you from the work you have to do. You have my complete support. I propose to stand by you and I’m not going to sit back and let anybody, like they say, roll over you.”
At that point the commissioner’s words were met with rousing applause. He went on: “I think what you’re doing is noble. What you’re doing is great work and you have the support of the majority of St Lucians. So until and unless a matter involving a police officer has gone through its entire court process and the court has determined you have acted improperly you have my full and complete support. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt in every instance. Like I said it cannot be that we use our powers as police officers to abuse the rights of others. We need to respect the rights of other people. We need to respect the human rights of other people.”
Francois told officers they should read and review the State Department’s report “for what it’s worth” but noted the report was not part of an international obligation.
“It is their job to review our performance,” he said. “It is not on the basis of any extended investigation but on the basis of reports submitted to them by members of the St Lucian public, sometimes police officers. They compile a report on each country on that basis.”
He assured officers there was nothing for them to be concerned about as far as the report, particularly as he said the main emphasis were the fatal police shootings in 2011 that the report made it clear were “potential unlawful.”
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he said. “Every action that is going to be reviewed or taken through an investigative process is potentially unlawful. It serves the purposes of the media and the Mary Francis’ of this world to take out the “potentially” from it and just indicate that it is unlawful.”
Francois used the forum to raise concerns related to the issue of “extrajudicial killings.”
“I think this is something we need to take seriously and the government of St Lucia needs to look at it in a serious way because when someone speaks of St Lucia engaging in extrajudicial killings it is comparing us to countries like Sudan and Syria, Iraq and Sadam Hussein and these kinds of things. What are the implications of these things to the international community? We are a tourist country you know.
“If we are engaged in ‘extrajudicial killings’ then that is the bracket we are in and that is not the case.”
According to Francois in every instance where there’d been “police shootings or what is considered as police excesses” the matters were subject to review or being investigated. The commissioner brought up the controversial issue of police investigating police in those circumstances.
“We can debate the issue as to whether police should investigate themselves,” he said. “We can ask members of the St Lucian public, ask the media, ask the Mary Francis’ of this world . . . Let us take the last five years and review the cases we’ve had involving police killings and whatever and the investigation. The officers who investigate the matter have their reputations to maintain. The police department has a reputation to maintain. We ensure the investigations are conducted in a very professional manner. Let us sit down, review the cases and make a determination. We have absolutely nothing to worry about,” he assured all. “As I said you have my complete support in these instances—the majority of right thinking St Lucians support you. There are a few criminals in this place and a few like I said, Mary Francis’ and her sympathizers that will find an issue with what you are doing but you have my complete, total support in what you are doing.”
Once again his words were met with energetic applause, but Francois’ address ended with quite a stern warning to members.
“The same way if it is found out that you acted improperly you will not have my support,” he declared.                 “My support is on the basis of when the incident has happened. We need to do an investigation, we need to go through the processes but you are responsible for your actions. You are the person on the scene; you have to make the determination as to what course of action to take. I want it to go past the inquest stage. If there is a full trial and the determination is made by a competent court of law that you are guilty, then we deal with it.”

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