Brits stand firm on power over police
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 10:28 AM
Britain "will not budge" in the tussle for control over Bermuda's police force.
'As long as we have international responsibility for Bermuda we will insist on retaining that oversight. We are not going to budge on that. We need to have some levers. If we are going to carry the can we need to have some means of seeing that law and order is respected.'
Sir Richard Gozney
Governor Sir Richard Gozney has been unmoved by persistent calls from Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and other PLP figures to cede his authority over the police to elected officials.
He said Britain "insisted" on retaining the right to make high-profile appointments to the jobs of Commissioner and Chief Justice.
But he said "operational control" lay solely with the police high command.
Dr. Brown reignited the debate last month in his television address to the nation when he spoke of his frustration at having "no say" in how the police force is managed.
And in the wake of last weekend's shooting outside Southside Cinema - the fifth in a fortnight - he was again critical of Government House for failing to "import assistance" to the police.
But Sir Richard said there was no chance of the situation changing.
"Operational control is a misnomer. The commissioner and his senior lieutenants have operational control over the police - that's the way it works in Britain - the commissioner and the MET say what should and shouldn't happen and that is quite right, I don't intend that anyone should interfere with that here."
He added that Britain would insist on retaining its oversight role - which essentially amounts to hiring and firing.
"As long as we have international responsibility for Bermuda we will insist on retaining that oversight. We are not going to budge on that.
"We need to have some levers. If we are going to carry the can we need to have some means of seeing that law and order is respected."
He said the possibility of corruption - under any administration - was one concern fuelling Britain's stance.
"I'm not saying it would happen but we don't want the risk of it ever happening. If we do that (cede oversight of the police) there is that danger and that is not going to work for us."
Despite their differing perspectives. Sir Richard characterized his relationship with the Premier as a good one.
He said he met regularly with Dr. Brown and Colonel Burch and was doing his best to reassure them that the police were getting the kind of training and tactical advice they needed.
And the relationship seemed to have thawed somewhat, on the PLPs side, this week with the party releasing a statement saying it was on the "same page" as Government House and the police service on the issue of 'violent crime'.
Both Sir Richard and the PLP backed the police's policy of targeting prolific priority offenders - seen as a more measured alternative to the SWAT team idea that gained some traction for a brief period last summer.
Police have assembled a league table of Bermuda's worst offenders and have singled them out for special attention.
"Those who are prolific offenders won't enjoy it because their lives will be disrupted but which came first - their prolific offending or the disruption to their lives?" said Sir Richard.
He believes the policy of targeting PPOs combined with new stop and search powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is beginning to get results.
And he said that with more support from the community further inroads could be made in the fight against gang violence.
The PLP were making similar noises this week, calling for an end to the 'wall of silence".
"It's going to take the entire community working together to combat crime," a statement put out by the party stated.
"The most recent shooting makes that statement ring more true than ever before. A hundred people saw what happened and yet, not one person would give a statement.
"This has to stop. It takes all of us - every single Bermudian - doing our part to put our society back on the right track."
What do you think? Are you happy that the British have oversight with regard to policing or would you prefer locally elected officials to have more say? E-mail feedback to editor Tony McWilliam: tmcwilliam@