Credibility cloud hangs over RGP
|by Leo Olivero,
Retired Police Superintendent
As this year?s National Day disappears into the distance and is duly recorded into local historical archives, many will not forget the main political issue that dominated the run up to National Day.
Do we have a political rally, as most opposing political parties and the SDGG were fervently in agreement with or introduce a more civic oriented theme to the day as the Government decided upon, the more civic approach was central to the Government's national day preparations and at the heart of their general organisational planning of the day's events, particularly at the Piazza.
However I think, that this year?s National Day will also be remembered for another issue that did not come directly from any political eagle, but nonetheless caused another storm of controversy and much public condemnation in the run up to National Day itself, this was the decision by the Royal Gibraltar Police who were, according to a public statement made by them, unable to police the proposed SDGG rally at Casemates because of lack of manpower and resources. The RGP said they were unable to guarantee the safety of the public present at the casemates rally due to this manpower shortage of officers.
Last week I commented in PANORAMA regarding this issue, my view was and still is that the police made a gigantic public relations cock up of immense proportions, and one that has created a great deal of adverse remarks from many sections of the public.
There is no doubt that the credibility of the police has taken a severe jolt, the most debatable and concerning issue that is in the public?s mouth and thoughts is regarding why the police senior command would have wanted to get involved in such a sensitive and high profile political issue right in the run up to National Day.
There are many that think the Commissioner of Police opted to support the Government regarding the national dally rally issue at the expense of not providing an efficient and safe police environment to the whole community, others are of the clear opinion that there has been some kind of political intrusion into police operational decisions, a situation that prevented the police in providing any kind of police presence during the political rally at Casemates.
Personally as a citizen and a retired senior police officer of the RGP I am extremely concerned with the whole matter. As I commented in my article last week, that during my service I have planned, commanded and policed many national days, and this when national days were much better attended than they have been in recent years.
If I had put the decision by the RGP into perspective, of publicly announcing they had no resources to police the rally at Casemates, and this purely on an operational lack of manpower standpoint, I would find it difficult to agree with this decision, as my experience tells me that it would practically be impossible of having zero manpower assets to deploy to a part of Main Street where you would normally expect police presence anyway, particularly on this day, and especially with the amount of people that would have been expected in this area, this without taking into account the political rally.
My firm view is that if the RGP?S decision in announcing a lack of resources was a purely operational one, this to police what was a 40 or 45 minute gathering of people, be it a political rally or what have you, than the police appear to have a serious problem somewhere with their planning strategies, and it may be also down to a lack of experience or ability by them to plan for these large public events effectively and efficiently.
I would however prefer the police to be inexperienced in planning operational events than the horrifying scenario of the Commissioner of Police yielding to any inappropriate outside influences that affects the operational effectiveness of the police, a situation that could also jeopardise the safety of the public, this without forgetting the credibility and professionalism cloud it forms over the RGP?S head, although I am not insinuating that the latter scenario is the case, though there are many people in Gibraltar now, who think and are convinced other wise.
The police in my opinion made a massive basic mistake; this is something that is instilled and drummed in to all police officers, especially at senior level, and is very simple to follow, a police officer should never appear to take sides particularly in public, even if he wants to, the police should never produce or issue public statements that could be interpreted to suggest or include any political connotations either deliberately or otherwise. I sense again a huge lack of experience coming from somewhere down the RGP line, because it would be inconceivable to think that it could be anything else.
Sadly it is not the first time that the police in recent times have issued statements that have raised more than a few eyebrows and have triggered negative police rumours circulating around the Rock. Days before the last general election the RGP issued a high profile public statement in an attempt to quash some rumours that were going round regarding a Minister. This statement by the police was again badly timed and placed, this on an issue that did not concern them, particularly about some petty village gossip that was doing the rounds prior to the election.
Earlier this year I wrote a two part article in PANORAMA calling for the police service to under go a process of reform, I still strongly maintain this view, good as the police service has been, the time is right for the police to undergo a reform process; the service in my opinion is in need of a root and branch examination that would establish an accurate agenda for the future of the police service in Gibraltar, not just for the next twelve months, but for the next ten years.
Demands from today?s society and the outside world leaves a worrying question mark as to the current and long term capability of the police services in Gibraltar, and how best to equip the police for their important challenging role ahead, this as guardians in the development of Gibraltar in the years to come.
In contemporary democracies, police reform is a continuous process. Even the most professional and sophisticated police forces or agencies strive to improve their effectiveness in preventing crime, detecting and apprehending criminals, and increasing the integrity, credibility and professionalism of their organization, particularly in the eyes of the public, police reform encompasses all this.
The most basic of policing activity is dependent on public involvement; the police depend on the public and the community at large to assist in almost every aspect of crime prevention and investigation. Mobilising the public is essential to the core mission of the police, and good treatment of the public is one way to build public support.
Good treatment and professional service are hard enough to deliver in calm encounters between the police and public, but particularly challenging in the emotionally charged circumstances in which members of the public and the police turn to each other for help, these are vital, and at the same time basic elements in the relationship between police and the public, more so in a place like Gibraltar where close dependency on one another is of a more focused and condensed nature.
Effective policing requires community effort and involvement, to-day's society has become more complex in character and much better informed, people in every modern society recognize that the police service is essential to their survival as a community, just as important is the ability of the police to keep pace with the increasing demands from an affluent and intelligent society, this ability must come from those officers that plot the course and direction the police service is heading.
The events surrounding the whole National Day dispute, and the perception that has remained in the minds of many regarding the police public statement regarding their inability to police an event on National Day, will not be forgotten too quickly.
POLICE MUST EXAMINE POLICIES AND STRUCTURES
It is up to the RGP to get its act together and examine its own structures and policies, particularly those connected to the general operational requirement of the community together with that of policing and planning of public events, although just as important for the RGP, is to acknowledge the importance of timing and the public value of their press statements, particularly when issued into the public domain during high profile political or community debates or disputes.
The whole National Day rumpus was a disastrous public relations tsunami for the police, and it is hoped that lessons will have been learnt. The RGP made few friends in their stubborn and what I consider na?ve policing decision regarding the rally, whereas if they had studied the situation carefully, they could have won round a certain section of the public, just by deploying a couple of uniform officers at Casemates so they could be seen, so much for visible policing.
What did the police do instead; they had officers in roof tops and buildings overlooking Casemates counting heads. The police later further agitated more people when they issued their own calculations on the number of people who attended the rally, which was far below all others figures quoted; the police could have kept quiet and quoted nothing, as they were not going to be there in any case, they had a good excuse to say, we are not sure how many people attended, we didn?t have the resources either to send officers to count heads.
There is now an urgent requirement for the RGP to embark on a public confidence gaining exercise, some strategy in this area must be thought out. There is no doubt there are many sections of the community who will be waiting and be most attentive to any future action or any kind of public statement by the police that may imply or have any kind of a political connotation.