By Kenton X. Chance
President of the Police Welfare Association (PWA), Sergeant Brenton Smith, has declined to comment on voice notes leaked from his executive’s WhatsApp group chat in which they complained bitterly about the conditions affecting police officers and proposed that they “storm” the Office of the Prime Minister in an attempt to have them addressed.
In the voice notes, the speakers complained about the absence of a fridge and a stove at a police station and the failure of the police chief to find out whether police officers riding on the back of police vehicles are insured.
Israel Bruce, lawyer for the association, told iWitness News that the association is also concerned about insurance for Coast Guard officers. He said the PWA had previously contributed fridges and stoves to police station but had decided to end that policy, in an attempt to get the police high command to respond to the needs of police officers.
The voice notes are said to have been leaked to the hierarchy of the police force and to some sections of the media — not including iWitness News.
As a result, members of the executive reportedly involved were summoned to a meeting with the police high command, after which three of them were transferred to three police districts furthest away from Kingstown.
On Tuesday, Smith, citing a “media policy”, directed iWitness News to Bruce for comment.
The lawyer told iWitness News that he is aware that there was a meeting between the police high command and the executive of the association.
He said that from all indications, there was some internal communication among executive members of the association in a Whatsapp chat group.
“It appears that one of the members of the group may have leaked — given whatever known or unknown reason — a voice note and responses to that particular voice note,” Bruce said.
In one of the voice notes, a male voice, said he has been waiting for the authorities to address them on matters that the association had written to them about.
“They have not sent us a response, they have not done anything in respect of the Police Force and the situations are deteriorating, they are getting worse by the day and the circumstances are way beyond our control and the organisation’s control.”
The man said it was time enough for them to “get up out of our seats, drink our coffee and let’s get to work.
“It is time enough. We have done more than six months of waiting. We can’t wait no longer. This is it. I have reached my boiling point. This is time for us to do what we have to do as an executive, let’s start to do what we’re supposed to do,” the man said.
He continued: “Carnival is finished and this is time for us to get down to serious business. By the time you wink, it is Christmas again and nothing can be done. The financial year is almost over.
“Fellas, you have to be smart and you have to be businesswise. This is the time you have to deal with these men and deal with the matters that are before us.”
The man said that the leave system needs to be changed and “the conditions at the stations need to be improved.
“Men need to work and work comfortably and we ought to have what we ought to have as an organisation. And we ought to prosper. Not those alone at the helm ought to prosper but the men and women who are working on a day to day basis ought to prosper as well.”
In another voice note, another male apologised for responding “so late”.
He said he has been reading the chat and was “totally hurt as to the response of the authorities”.
The man said that they have written to the Prime Minister and he responded saying that a meeting will be set up with members of the government side.
“However, no date was given. That, to me, is a way to get away from meeting with us.”
Responding to one “Roberts”, the man said that with regards to the fridge, he thinks that the association needs to write to the authorities as a backup and strengthen it.
“We are not going to give away any fridge, we are not going to give away any stove. We must pressure the authorities to do their part. That is what I am supporting of.”
He further said that association has written to the Commissioner of Police before having an executive meeting, asking for the police chief “to respond in regards to the transport and persons riding on it”.
He said the association has also asked for a leave committee to be set up.
“A month have (sic) elapsed. He asked for a month to find out with the insurance company if we are covered. A month have (sic) elapsed and he has not done anything. Well, I am going to write him strongly, I am going to copy it to the Minister of National Security and we ought to — one of the things I was thinking today, that we must be so angry that we must storm the Prime Minister’s Office, all executive members, no authority. We are not asking anybody to go there,” the male said in the voice note that seems to have ended abruptly.
In another voice note, a voice sounding similar to that of the second male, said, “This must hit the news. It must hit the news and hit it hard that the Welfare Association storm the prime minister’s office for matters that are not being addressed.”
That voice note ended at that point.
On Tuesday, Bruce said that in the voice notes, one member of the executive was saying that the group had spent some time trying to get the police chief to address a number of issues.
“And they formed the conclusion that they were getting nowhere fast. And so, the phrase that we should storm the Prime Minister’s office was used in the voice note.
“It is my understanding that the use of the term storm the prime minister’s office was made with an understanding and appreciation that when we go to the prime minister’s office and we will be very forceful with what our representations are. And so that is the context in which it was said that they would storm the prime minister’s office.”
Bruce said it is believed that that statement was taken out of context and taken to mean that the members of the Police Welfare Association Executive were going to go to the office of the Prime Minister and accost him or take him hostage or something of that silly sort.
“I don’t know in this day and age who would entertain such nonsense as police officers.”
Bruce said that police officers “in these parts have already been beaten into submission that when they meet politicians of the rank of Prime Minister, they start to bow and salute. An air of subservience constantly pervades around police officers in these parts of the world.”
Bruce emphasised that the statement was taken out of context, adding that it has created “a number of difficulties between the police welfare association leadership and the leadership of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force — unnecessarily so too.”
Bruce said that he knows there was a meeting but the leadership of the welfare association had not briefed him.
He, however, said that he, too, has heard rumours of the executive members being searched and stripped of their telephones before the meeting with the police high command.
After the meeting, Smith, a non-commissioned officer in-charge of Beat and Patrol was transferred to Union Island.
Constable Kenroy Martin was transferred to Chateaubelair and Constable Jeremain Roberts was transferred from the Port Authority to Owia.
The transfers took effect on Monday.
A member of another trade union representing government workers told iWitness News that it is believed that the transfers are intended to affect the ability of the Police Welfare Association to meet and strategise in its effects to get the government to respond to its demands.
When iWitness News contacted Commissioner of Police Renald Hadaway at 7:40 a.m. Wednesday morning, he said he was driving and could not entertain the call at that time. He asked that we call him back in about 30 minutes. A subsequent call at 8:10 a.m., — just before posting this article — went unanswered. We will report on the comments his comments or those of the Ministry of National Security if and when it becomes available.