With criticism of the police force hitting an all-time high particularly after the case of heroin which allegedly went missing while in police care, Weekly speaks to Inspector Jaylall Boojhawon, president of the Police Officers' Solidarity Union.
In a surprisingly frank interview, Boojhawon talks about the perceived political interference in not only the recruitment of police but also in the promotion exercise, which is causing resentment in the force. He is also critical of the current commissioner of police and the general lack of morale within the force.
The recent drugs commission report has proposed dismantling the Anti Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU), how do you see this suggestion?
I disagree with this conclusion of the report. The report itself shows under what difficult conditions the ADSU has to work. It was created after the Rault report came out and it has been working in the same way for more than 30 years. The report says that they want to create a national drugs commission with lots of power like monitoring bank transactions and accessing itemised phone bills. Why not just give those powers to the ADSU, instead of creating something new? Right now we have to go through the State Law Office and get approval from a judge in chambers, why not give the ADSU its own legal department to handle all this and give it more powers instead of looking to create a new commission?
But the ADSU is not working, is it?
I am against the creation of this commission. The report says that it should be headed by an ex-judge and two assessors, one of whom has to be no less than a chief inspector with five years' experience. Is that tailor-made for someone? I can tell you that this commission will not work because in the end, they will still need experienced police officers to do the job. So why call for a commission rather than simply restructure the ADSU? Because the report had to come up with something special just to show that it has done something.
Many people think that the reputation of the police, not just the ADSU, has never been so low. Would you agree with that?
I would agree that the morale of male and female officers is low at the moment. Every day and every night several police officers call me about problems they encounter in the field that stop them from doing their work.
What kind of problems?
Police officers are human beings. They have feelings, emotions, stress, fatigue etc. We are not robots; we do not function on batteries. If a human being is not getting everything that he is entitled to according to the Pay Research Bureau (PRB) and not getting the promotions s/he deserves and, instead, has to work in bad conditions and be subject to punitive transfers, the morale goes down automatically. Criminals are increasingly becoming more sophisticated. We need incentives.
You are always asking for the police, but has the police done enough to deserve it?
Yes. When we see police officers on the road, they are there to protect themselves and society. But they are not equipped with revolvers and safety equipment. As a reply to a Private Notice Question, the commissioner of police stated that the police would be given a belt with an expandable baton and handcuffs. Up to now, we haven't seen anything.
You are asking for weapons but you are not on the war front. There are the riot police, Special Mobile Force (SMF) etc. to combat special incidents when there is violence. Why should we have policemen walking around with revolvers to deal with petty crime?
I agree that we are not on the war front. However, day by day, it is becoming more and more difficult for police officers to maintain law and order. Very often, petty incidents turn into serious disturbances within minutes when offenders are armed with offensive weapons, including guns, to cause bodily harm to others, including the police. At times, police officers have to instantly attend to requests for assistance in cases of robbery, aggravating larceny and damaging property by band. It is thus important for police officers to be equipped with safety equipment for their own security, as well as sophisticated equipment, like Taser guns and why not revolvers, to allow them to arrest those dangerous offenders, who will not hesitate for a second to wound even the police to avoid arrest or even threaten the law enforcement officials to force them to leave the spot.
When the situation is dangerous, why not call the SMF or the Special Support Unit (SSU)?
Those two specialised units are there for specific purposes, such as quelling riots and other serious disturbances, though it is unfortunate to say that they are at times used at the whim and caprice of some. For the past months, we have witnessed several on-duty police officers being attacked by people armed with sabres and other deadly weapons. It is only when the police are allowed to properly protect themselves that they can protect the public.
Most of the time, though, the police are dealing with petty crime and need no weapons, do they?
In fact, there are no petty crimes, as very often those so-called petty crimes escalate into serious ones.
You seem to have a conflictual relationship with the commissioner. Why are you at each other's throats?
We don't know where the commissioner is heading. Last year, he celebrated the 250th anniversary, out of nowhere. We have been independent for 50 years, so how can the police celebrate 250 years? The whole plan was for the commissioner's name to appear somewhere on a stone. So a date was invented!
Don't celebrations boost the morale?
How can you celebrate an anniversary when your children don't have food? Millions of rupees were spent on that imaginary anniversary and hundreds of police officers were required for the celebrations while citizens were left to fend for themselves. Those officers should have been on the road, instead they are parading for pride and honour and all those millions spent on those festivities could have been spent on training and equipment.
The police have a lot of money. The last budget allocated Rs8.4 billion to the police force. Where is that money?
I am asking myself the same question. In most stations, we have no ink, no paper... Sometimes, officers have to buy ink and paper out of their own pockets!
Come on! That can't possibly be true!
It is! This is happening now! Besides, go and visit any station around the island and you will only see one sergeant and two other officers working in a station. We have a serious shortage of manpower.
Is that the commissioner's fault?
Yes! In December 2014, most police officers and their families put their faith in this government and in this new commissioner of police. We were hoping that he would be able feel the problems of the police officers and boost their morale, give them appropriate equipment, training and good conditions of work. We also thought we would be given what we are owed according to the PRB. Unfortunately, things have become worse. Where is the police academy we have been hearing about in every budget for the last three years? A police academy would have provided much needed training to the police force.
What kind of training would stop police officers from stealing drugs from a police station?
Our work is becoming more and more difficult and risky now.
Does that justify 16kg of drugs disappearing from a police station?
There is an independent police inquiry instituted by the minister mentor. Let's wait for the conclusion of that inquiry and after that I will make the appropriate comments. There could or could not be an explanation but, at this stage, I cannot presume that there has been a misdeed. Let the inquiry finish and if there is a misdeed, I will be the first one to point fingers. Up to now, we cannot say what happened exactly. Perhaps there is a problem of packaging.
Sixteen kilos of packaging? Are you serious?
I'm not justifying anything. Let those who are responsible for the keeping of exhibits explain that at the independent inquiry.
When the disappearance of the drugs became public knowledge, your first reaction was to defend the police. Do you see your role as standing for all the corrupt officers and their misdeeds?
As the president of the Police Officers Solidarity Union (POSU), I will always be here to defend and safeguard the interests of police officers, who are very often subject to unjustified criticism, but who were previously not allowed to unionise. I will do so whenever the situation demands it. However, with respect to the alleged disappearance of drugs, I prefer wait for the conclusion of the independent inquiry set up by the government, where those who are responsible for the care and custody of the drugs will be called to explain or justify that important variation. However, if ever there is any 'maldone', those responsible will have to assume responsibility. I have said it in all media and am stating it anew that our union is not here to blindly stand for corrupt officers who, for their own sake and pocket, are tarnishing the image of the police and those of the majority of their colleagues who are doing their job properly. We will even tell them that their place is not in the police force but in jail, with other criminals, as the force needs officers of integrity. They shouldn't dare soil the uniform and the oath they took on joining the force.
Isn't the root problem of what the police force is going through today the new recruitment criteria that have been in effect since 2015?
The criteria have not changed. The only requirement removed concerns the body mass index.
Why? So that we can see obese police officers on the streets?
Police recruits have to do physical exercise. Those who are fat have become fat after so many years of service and neglect.
My understanding is that the psychological screening was also done away with. Isn't that the case?
When I joined the force, there was proper screening carried out by the National Security Service (NSS) then called the National Intelligence Unit (NIU). However, during the course of time, the screening has become so flexible that, on some occasions, people who ought not to have joined the force have unfortunately joined the force. We cannot recruit people based on their political affiliation.
How much intervention is there in the police force?
I will not say that there is no political interference, but it is done backstage, behind the curtains through telephone calls. When I mentioned that recently on a private radio, the Central Criminal Investigation Department (CCID) landed at my home for an inquiry! But it is clear that there is political interference. Look at the case of WPC Toinette who, after booking the president of a village council for not wearing his seat belt, was transferred very far away from her residence. Due to the intervention of our union, the decision to transfer her has been reversed. Another case is that of a constable who was transferred and, replying to a Parliamentary Question in the National Assembly, the minister mentor himself stated live in front of the whole country that this was a punitive transfer! Yet, the commissioner of police said two days later that it was not a punitive transfer. A third case happened in October 2013 when a police officer called Nallan, who was working in Goodlands, was asked by PPS Rughoobur to dispatch two police officers to help with road works. The sergeant told the PPS that he couldn't as the work was private. The PPS wrote to the commissioner of police demanding that the sergeant be immediately transferred from his constituency. And the commissioner obeyed. Fortunately, the union intervened at the right time and the transfer was avoided. But Raghoobar's letter is still with me. If a police officer is transferred for doing his job, he and his family will suffer. Do you think he'll have the same morale and the same motivation to carry out his job afterwards?
Why do police officers kowtow to politicians?
The pressure usually doesn't come directly from a politician to a police officer. It comes from higher quarters. Very few police officers would dare say no to a higher ranked officer otherwise, he'll be transferred. I, myself was transferred from the Intermediate Court in Port Louis to the Mahébourg Court where I have to be in front of the magistrate for the whole day. Before, at 1pm, I was done and could devote my time to union work. They did that intentionally, tire moi dans Port Louis, met mwa dan Mahébourg. Now I spend the whole day in court. Why? Just for speaking my mind! If I, as the president of a union, am suffering such reprisals, what do you think can happen to the poor police officer on the field?
Do you see the commissioner of police often?
Since the creation of the police union in December 2016, the commissioner of police hasn't met us even once, although we have sent him several requests. He made us meet some lower ranking police officers. Even Mr Jhugroo, who looks after the welfare of police officers has not deigned to meet us and they are doing all sorts of manoeuvres to prevent police officers from joining the union.
Is the police commissioner's rumoured imminent retirement likely to improve the situation at the Line Barracks?
To tell you frankly, I don't think so. The rumour that someone might come from a lower rank is worrying. The situation will be similar to what happened in 2015 when Mr. Jhugroo was promoted to deputy commissioner of police over the head of so many (DCPs) who were his senior.
Was that because he is related to MP Jhugroo?
There is rumour that that might be the reason but is this the way our police should function? Is it the right way?
Is he to be the one earmarked to replace Mario Nobin?
There are rumours that he is one of the favourites to be the commissioner of police. But this does not depend on me.
What do you think will happen if that was the case?
Normally it's the Discipline Forces Service Commissioner who appoints the commissioner of police but what happens behind closed curtains, only those pulling the strings know. Most of our top management did not work at the lower levels of the ladder before they were upgraded. They didn't start as constables, they didn't work on the field. Still, they try to control the police. Now, applications are out that more than 30 cadet officers will be promoted directly to deputy assistant superintendent of police, over the heads of so many senior officers like me, who are fully qualified and have experience. Do you think that's good for morale?
Is this also something new?
Previously, there were only one or two. Now they will be recruiting 30 or more cadet officers. It's causing a lot of frustration in our force. People are asking whether there was any transparency in the recruitment. What is happening in the police force now is that we are being governed by cadet officers, the majority of whom have never worked in the field. They therefore do not know the problems our police officers are facing daily. It is bad news for the police force.