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Don’t cop out in dealing with media
One of the early and unnecessary casualties of the Flying Squad bacchanal may turn out to be the relationship between the media and the acting Commissioner of Police. Earlier this week Mr Williams was contacted by a T&T Guardian reporter so that he could respond to further allegations made by retired inspector Mervyn Cordner.
Mr Williams chose not to answer the questions, but rather than saying he had no comment to make, instead he held forth at some length on the topic of his own integrity. Part of his harangue went, for example: “There is a not a single citizen who could stand up at the level of integrity that I could stand up to in T&T. I have spent my entire career performing a duty with nobody pointing a finger at me.”
Mr Williams appears to have missed the point to a disturbing extent, and his response was inappropriate and worrying. Here were reporters going back and forth, as is the normal practice, between one person making an accusation and the other responding, seeking to have the issue clarified. But instead of meeting the need of citizens for additional information with swift, helpful and complete responses, the acting CoP took offence in the most personal way.
As a senior police officer he must know that many rounds of investigation may be required to get at the truth of a matter. As the acting commissioner, he should know that he is being approached not because he is Stephen Williams, and not because the media are attacking him or casting doubt on his integrity, but because he is a spokesman for and public representative of the entire police service.
This is a matter involving the governance of the country; accountability on the part of senior officials, including himself and senior members under his command; the Minister of National Security, the subordinates of the minister; the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the National Security Council.
Under such circumstances, an experienced and capable officer such as the acting CoP, who is also a trained attorney, should be responding with patience, tolerance, detachment and tact. “I am not answering any more questions about Cordner” is not an acceptable response. Mr Williams, given his qualifications and experience, should also understand the role of reporters and the media in probing issues, not for personal gain or in order to offend anyone, but in the public interest.
If the public and the media have any concerns or queries about the police, it is to Mr Williams that they must turn, since he is the man in charge. With that in mind, Mr Williams is duty-bound to be forthcoming with full responses whenever possible, and at the very least a polite response when he has no further information or cannot reveal it.
Mr Williams’ touchiness on the issue provides yet further grounds for the view that he is not the best man for the job of investigating the mysterious Flying Squad. The acting Commissioner should recuse himself and by so doing clear the way for the Prime Minister to make a new appointment to investigate.
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