On The Royal Bahamas Police Force And Recent Events

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Hon. Philip Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Prime Minister
Commonwealth of The Bahamas

21 April 2020

For Immediate Release

I wish to have this publicly recorded as a policy view with regard to the Royal Bahamas Police Force. I write this in light of three recent developments in our country: the Covid 19 pandemic, the Appointment of a new Commissioner of Police and subsequent promotions of Assistant Commissioners of Police; the public’s views about the treatment of convicted defendant Jonathan Ash.

Let me be clear that the PLP supports a politically neutral Force – one that acts without fear or favour. This does not mean that individual officers may not have their personal preferences but these preferences must never interfere with the execution of their duties and in the application of Force Orders in a non discriminatory manner toward the public. I use discriminatory to mean treating one class or group or individual differently from another class or group or individual because of their parochial, political, familiar or other ties with the Force or the Government.

I recently sent a “no objection” letter in the consultations that I had with the Prime Minister on the appointment of the current Commissioner of Police. It is my basic view that the Prime Minister is by reason of the provisions of the constitution, entitled to his choice for Commissioner.  Were I to become Prime Minister I would therefore exercise in my own deliberate judgment who should be Commissioner of Police, should that become necessary within my term. I would have objected to the new appointment of the now Commissioner if I believed that it was not possible for the nominee to perform in that high office without fear or favour. I was assured that neutrality would be possible.

However, I stipulated in my “no objection” letter that I was concerned about the management of the Force because in the public domain there was evidence that several senior officers had been shunted aside by the political directorate without any reason which could be accepted as plausible. 

By this I refer to the reason given by the National Security Minister that the Force was top heavy in its management and there were too many Assistant Commissioners of Police.

In retrospect my point has been shown to be correct.  With the announcement of the four new Assistant Commissioners of Police, there are now 11 Assistant Commissioners of Police, exactly the same number as when the FNM administration came to office. No public rationale has been given for the apparent contradiction.

Let me hasten to add that this statement makes no comment on the personal characters of any of the individuals concerned. This is about the policy makers, not about the officers.

Then yesterday, the public was exposed to a most interesting development.  The Crown’s star witness in two cases of former PLP Ministers, a man by the name of Jonathan Ash, was charged and convicted for breaking the curfew and selling alcohol against the regulations. He was fined $7,000.

Immediately, the public began to comment that there was a double standard employed with Mr. Ash while in custody and while being delivered up to the courts. When you compare and contrast the treatment of Mr. Ash to that of former Ministers Kenred Dorset and Shane Gibson and former Senator Frank Smith, it seemed clearly discriminatory and it demands some public explanation. Mr. Ash was able to walk to the courts on his own. In fact, he ran.

The three former politicians were not flight risks. They were not security risks. They could well have been summoned to court and would have appeared on their own. However, it appears that a deliberate decision was taken to embarrass them and their families by delivering them up in handcuffs and in Mr. Gibson’s case even when it was clear that he was injured. Mr. Gibson later alleged that the order for him to be shackled was given at the highest political level.

I also express the concern that the police and other security personnel are being overworked during this Covid 19 pandemic because the political directorate does not adequately plan what it is doing. It appears that things are being made up as they go along. There are too many orders. These orders are not written and collected in one place and available in one place and both the public and the police are confused. Yesterday, there were disgraceful lines in the streets because the police seemed to be checking the identifications of car drivers as a result of an instruction by the Prime Minister that when you leave your home you must have government issued identification. We must be careful not to put too much pressure on the police and the other security personnel. If you do, there are bound to be conflicts with the public and God forbid something unfortunate follows.

I have asked a young attorney Bjorn Ferguson to review what has transpired with regard to these matters. He has a history of dealing with public law litigation on behalf of police officers. I have asked him to compile a report on these matters with any recommendations he might have for our policies going forward including the role and work of the Police Service Commission. In due course, I will ask the party to formally adopt a policy position on which we shall campaign.

 I have said before that when we come to office, it may be that all of these matters have to be investigated by a Commission of Inquiry.

 I certainly believe that the Attorney General in the face of Mr. Ash’s conviction must make decisions with regard to any future case or cases going forward, in the public interest.

All of these matters demand that we state our position clearly as one of deep and grave concern. It requires the Government to explain forthrightly and without political dissembling

All of these matters require some public comment by the political directorate.