When he was first installed as Acting Commissioner of Police in May 2010, Vernon Francois publicly stated he would not tolerate corruption within the Royal St Lucia Police Force and would work arduously to weed out such elements. Though allegations of corruption and misgivings have been leveled at the force since Francois took office, especially with the implementation of Operation Restore Confidence, the criticism is aimed at the integrity of the hierarchy of the police force.
Police have confirmed that on Friday July 1, sometime in the late afternoon, Housing Minister Richard Frederick’s vehicle was parked along Jeremie Street, apparently in contravention with St Lucia’s traffic laws. Frederick maintains that there are no double yellow lines to indicate a No Parking zone and therefore his vehicle was not illegally parked. However, traffic officers say there is a No Parking sign mounted on a pole along the side of the street.
As the police tell it, a traffic officer proceeded to issue a ticket to the minister when a man intervened by attempting to grab the ticket book. Reports are that the officer warned the man about his behaviour but he persisted in his efforts. Eventually, the officer was able to affix the ticket to the minister’s windscreen but then the man proceeded to tear the ticket in the officer’s presence, all the while hurling insults at the lawman. The officer, according to sources, tried to restrain the man but it was only with the assistance of a second policeman that he was handcuffed and taken into custody. The officer who issued the ticket is currently on sick leave.
Subsequently, when the man in question was taken to the Central Police Station and was being processed, it is alleged that a Deputy Commissioner of Police instructed a superintendent of police to have the man released immediately. It is further alleged that the superintendent contacted the traffic department and passed on the message.
By Monday the airwaves were buzzing and the Police Welfare Association was not taking the man’s release lightly. The Association met with members of the traffic department that day. They then made their way to Police Headquarters at Chesterfield and demanded a meeting with the top brass. It was their mission to convey that the man needed to be re-arrested and prosecuted at the soonest for the assault of their fellow officer and further, the ticket needed to be lodged before the courts as per the norm.
On Thursday July 7, the same man involved in the incident was apprehended at the Francis Compton Building at the Castries Waterfront following the issuance of a warrant of arrest for assault of an officer, resisting arrest and obstruction. He was taken before a magistrate yesterday and was granted bail.
The man’s re-arrest was welcomed by the Police Welfare Association. President Martin James told the STAR this was just one step to resolving the issues stemming from the July 1 incident.
Said James, “There are several issues that need to be addressed before this matter is put to rest. The first is the assault of the police officer. The second is the issuance of the traffic ticket and the third is the letter Minister Frederick wrote to the Commissioner of Police suggesting it was a personal attack.”
James denounces the minister’s statement saying that police officers operate without fear or favour in executing their duties.
The major hurdle for the Police Welfare Association is to bolster the morale of its members. Said James, “The external interference and the internal decision have both caused grave embarrassment to the Force. It has demotivated police officers. Morale is at an all time low especially coming out of Operation Restore Confidence. We took pride in the decreasing crime figures but this incident has diminished our morale. Serious damage control needs to be done. This was an attack on the police force. We are asking our members to stand in solidarity with us.”
James made it clear the internal decision made to release the man has “brought elements of trust and regard into the fore. You cannot ask your officers to perform their duties legitimately and when they do you contradict your words. It speaks badly of the relationship between the hierarchy and the rank and file of the force.”
James indicated the Police Welfare Association will convene a general meeting with its members to get a mandate and instructions on the way forward.
Meanwhile, the Housing and Urban Renewal Minister has been speaking out on the issue. Speaking to the STAR earlier this week Frederick sought to shed some light on his involvement. He said, “I saw the officer writing the ticket. I left him to do his work. I did not see the altercation between the officer and [name withheld]. I was not even close to the area when the incident occurred.”
Regarding allegations that he had a hand in the man’s initial release Frederick said, “People can say what they want. One can say what one wants but one must be prepared to prove it. I heard I was at Police Headquarters. Did anyone witness my presence? I heard I called. Can anyone confirm that? I called no one in connection with [name withheld] release.”
Acting Police Commissioner Vernon Francois has spoken out saying he has been informed that instructions were given to a senior police officer to release the man.
On a local news broadcast he said, “That is not acceptable to me because obviously senior officers are permitted to make decisions. What I have learned is that the decision was made based on the information that was available to the senior police officer at the time but this is not the policy of the Royal St Lucia Police Force. We do not tolerate this kind of behaviour and if somebody has broken the law, we have asked our officers to be as vigilant as they can be to deal with crime and infractions of the law.”