Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Western cops muzzled after rat fiasco

Published:Friday | February 22, 2019 | 12:39 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor

WESTERN BUREAU:

Growing scrutiny on crime data and an embarrassing rat infestation exposé at the old Area One headquarters in Montego Bay have caused rank-and-file police in western Jamaica to come under pressure from their superiors to keep their mouths shut.

The cops say they have been told to desist from interviews or interactions with the media.

“We are coming under pressure from the people above us, who are opposed to us giving reports to the media about matters relating to crime and crime statistics,” a police officer, who requested anonymity because of fear of disciplinary action, told The Gleaner. “They claim that by giving out information to the media, we are helping the media to make the police look bad.”

According to the officers, sometimes when they are accosted by their superiors about information that appears in the media, they are forced to lie so as to escape unpleasant consequences, to include transfer from the division.

“When you get on the wrong side of these senior officers, they will transfer you to some places where you can’t even get radio reception,” said the officer, citing the nature of retribution sometimes meted out by supervisors. “So, that is why we have to basically hide and give out information and ask that our names are not used.

The Gleaner understands that the hierarchy was rankled by the February 13, 2019, exposé on rat infestation the old police Area One headquarters. Leptospirosis fears had triggered fumigation of the building.

“When the question was asked about how the media got the information and access to the compound to take the photograph that appeared in print, nobody owned it, because they fear the repercussion,” another policeman said. “We are happy that we brought it to the attention of the media because works to improve the conditions started the very next day.”

Efforts to reach Superintendent Vernon Ellis, the commanding officer for St James, to get a comment on the allegations were unsuccessful, as he was said to be out of office. Calls to Assistant Superintendent Dahlia Garrick, head of the police Corporate Communications Unit, went unanswered.

However, another senior officer, who asked not to be identified, told The Gleaner that while he prefers that lawmen get authorisation before speaking to the press, he is not against interaction with the media.

“We need the media to get out information from time to time, so I couldn’t support a policy that says the police should not speak to the media,” the policeman said. “Once what is reported is fair, balanced and honest, I see nothing wrong. The only time I have a problem is when misinformation goes out.”

Last week, police at the old Area One headquarters brought the rat infestation to public attention, saying five persons had suddenly become ill, displaying symptoms of leptospirosis, and had decided to vacate the building and work outside.

Lennox Wallace, the chief public health inspector for St James, confirmed the rat infestation and told The Gleaner that an eradication programme was underway to exterminate the rodents.

adrian.frater@gleanerjm.com