The Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force has launched an internal investigation into voice notes in which men said to be members of the Police Welfare Association (PWA) proposed that they “storm” the Office of the Prime Minister in an attempt to have their grievances addressed.
Commissioner of Police Renald Hadaway further told iWitness News on Thursday that the police have not ruled out the possibility of criminal charges against the officers allegedly involved.
“From my vantage point, I am looking at internal sanctions at the moment, so to speak. However, I am not ruling out anything outside of that. As a matter of fact, I have sought legal advice on the whole issue and that, again, will inform the decision.”
The recordings are said to have been circulated within a WhatsApp group composed of members of the executive of the PWA and are believed to have been leaked by a member of the group.
Since the leaked recording became public this week, Head of the SVG Police Welfare Association, Sergeant Brenton Smith has been transferred from the Central Police Station in Kingstown to Union Island, while fellow executive members, Constable Kenroy Martin was transferred to Chateaubelair and Constable Jeremain Roberts was transferred from the Port Authority to Owia.
The commissioner, however, denied that the transfers were punishment.
“Transfer is a regular occurrence. Punishment is something totally different. Punishment comes as a result of investigation and the findings of such investigations.
“That matter is under investigation and that will inform the extent of the punishment that would be meted out,” he told iWitness News.
In the three voice notes, the speakers discuss issues affecting police officers, including the implementation of a leave committee, fridges and stoves for police stations, and whether police officers are insured when riding in police vehicles.
Lawyer for PWA, Israel Bruce, has said that the officer’s comments were being taken out of context.
“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 told iWitness News this week
However, the police chief disagreed, telling iWitness News:
“That is his interpretation. I don’t see it. That’s the way he put it but I beg to differ.”
Asked if the police, having listened to the “storm” comment in context, felt that the speakers were threatening the person of the prime minister, the police chief told iWitness News:
“I answer it this way: If the Welfare Association is aggrieved for whatever matter or matters, and they intended to seek an audience with the prime minister to go to the prime minister’s office and have that issue ventilated and addressed, I ask this question, how is that gonna hit the news and hit the news hard? I can’t see it.”
He was quoting a comment in one of the voice notes in which one of the speakers said that the police chief had not responded to their question about the insurance within the month that he had promised.
“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,” a male said in the voice note that seems to have ended abruptly.
In another voice note, a voice sounding similar to that of the one who spoke about storming the Prime Minister’s office, 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.”
The police chief told iWitness News that most of the time the PWA will send a delegation, rather than the entire body going to meet with the Prime Minister.
“So, again, this is where persons are calling out persons to rally and support their cause. I am dumbfounded to hear this coming from police officers. It is totally uncalled for and unacceptable and we have to treat it all with the highest degree of seriousness. I really don’t understand it. I am lost.”