We must demand Inquests

Police on a raid earlier this year in Wilton’s Yard. (Photo by Bill Mortley)

Have you stopped to think how difficult is the policeman’s job in Saint Lucia. I mean, where are the incentives to be the best an officer can be? In the first place, the pay is lousy, hardly enough to maintain the lifestyle of an ordinary young man. By which I mean, a young man with rent to pay, usually in the range of $800 or so a month. Then there are food bills, electricity bills and gas bills, whether for cooking purposes or for your car, if you have a car. So many policemen are also fathers who must find money to keep their kids in school, or who have girlfriends who expect to dress, well, in the fashion of a  policeman’s woman. You know what I mean? How does a police officer keep the wolf from his rented door when all he makes is $3000 a month. And, for all I know, with no special insurance!
Let’s face it, being a police officer must leave you open to all kinds of temptations. When things at home are tight, when you can’t meet the bills I just mentioned, how do you say no to an offer that could pay the rent for a year and keep your girlfriend happy for at least three months? Of course, this scenario applies to police officers everywhere: the money they get offered under the table for just pretending to be deaf and blind for a few minutes can amount to ten times what they earn annually. That is some kind of temptation to resist.
Then there is the damned if you do, damned if you don’t syndrome that is so much life for police officers in Saint Lucia. Just a few months ago you couldn’t tune in to a talk-radio program without hearing the wall-to-wall experts. Not only were they telling the police how to do their work, where to look for clues and so on, they were also accusing the police of being in cahoots with the criminals. You heard stories about how untrustworthy were the police. Who will forget the time a well-known, high profile citizen called Newsspin for the specific purpose of issuing a warning to the civilian population. And what was that warning? He warned Saint Lucians not to tip the police off on criminal behavior because the police could not be trusted.
It didn’t help when a young woman accused unidentified police officers of either raping her themselves or aiding and abetting her rapists. People were calling for the dismissal of the officers, even without the smallest evidence to support their demands.
Crime became the main topic in the country. Young men were killing each other at the rate of two or three a week. And with no arrests, well, arrests that predictably went nowhere, the people again blamed the police, while the politicians blamed each other. And then, all of a sudden the tide turned. It seemed the acting police commissioner Vernon Francois had decided to grab the bulls by their horns, so to speak. Some well-known troublemakers were shot dead, allegedly after they opened fire on the cops during raids. If the acting police chief expected the gratitude of the populace, he soon had reason to think again. Now he and his men were being accused of all kinds of brutality, including extra-judicial killings. This morning’s news that a police contingent had shot five men in the course of a robbery, four fatally, seemed to confirm the worst suspicions. Someone actually asked Timothy Poleon on-air why it was that no police officer is ever shot dead during incidents like this morning’s?             Almost as if the caller would happier to learn three or four cops had been dispatched by the would-be robbers. In any case, how quickly we forget. Wasn’t a police officer shot and killed near the waterfront several months ago? And what about the officer who was fatally shot at Ciceron?
It is true that even criminals are protected by the constitution. But while the police are supposed to protect the rest of us from the criminals, do we really expect them to make themselves easy targets for armed crooks. Shouldn’t we expect them to defend themselves? Which brings me to the matter of how much force the police are by law allowed to use. The answer is “no more than is necessary.” But you tell me: when in the course of say, a robbery, guns are pointed at the cops, what do we expect them to do? Presume the guns are not loaded? Run away and hide? I think not.
Instead of always jumping to conclusions whenever a suspected criminal catches a police bullet, why don’t we demand what the law also demands? Inquests. When was the last time a fatal shooting was followed by an inquiry? It is pointless calling up our favourite show every time there’s an incident like this morning’s to repeat the same useless lines that all of us have heard so many times before. Better for all concerned that the police be required to give full account following a fatal shooting. In the meantime, let us all remember the police are all we have to keep criminals from ruling our lives. We should not be making it more and more difficult for them to protect us!

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