Police Association leaders apologize to ComPol

The dispute brewing last week between the leaders of the Police Association and Commissioner of Police David Henderson has ended amicably, with the Association leaders apologizing to the Commissioner for the manner in which they had sought to have the issue of Police transfers and other internal matters addressed.

The Commissioner has also relented and withdrew the disciplinary charges brought against Association President, Corporal Eldo Arzu, and the Association’s vice president, Sergeant Eldin Lorenzo, after the Association undertook to operate within the rules governing the existence of a Police Association in accordance with the Police Act.

Both sides expressed regret at the breakdown in communications which led to the falling out, after they arrived at an understanding, at a meeting with Minister of National Security Hon. John Saldivar on Thursday, July 26. Both the Commissioner and the Association’s leaders committed to work closely to address the issues affecting the welfare and efficiency of the Police department and its officers.

They also agreed to review and revise the rules governing the Association to allow that body to function more effectively without overstepping the legal boundaries set out in the Police Act, and without the Association gaining any of the rights privileges or power of a trade union.

For their part the Association leaders also assured the Minister and Commissioner that they would not seek to align themselves with any union, since the law expressly forbids it. They would also look at how other Police Associations in the region work, to seek ways of improving their function.

Arzu and Lorenzo were placed on interdiction on Tuesday, July 24. Arzu was charged with being disrespectful to a superior officer, and Lorenzo was charged with disobeying a lawful command. Both officers  pleaded not guilty to the charges when they appeared before a Police tribunal at the Police Academy in Belmopan on Wednesday, July 25.

Arzu and Lorenzo’s revelations on Love FM’s morning talk show last Wednesday, July 18, and further disclosures to Channel 5 and Channel 7 News, prompted the Police Commissioner to withdraw his support for the Police Association, and deny them the use of the office space they had previously enjoyed.

The Police Act allows the Police Association to exist “for the purpose of enabling the members of the Belize Police Department to consider and bring to the notice of the Commissioner of Police and the Minister all matters affecting their welfare and efficiency, other than personal matters of discipline and promotion”.

In the Police Department’s view, Arzu and Lorenzo had violated the terms under which the Association was formed, and in attempting to influence the conditions of service for those officers who were transferred, they were breaking the law.

In lobbying for the officers who were unhappy about the conditions of their transfer, the association was acting as if it were a labor union, which the Department emphatically states they are NOT!

The Association’s public agitation against the short notice of the transfers has found favor with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (N.T.U.C.B.), which came out in support of the Association’s actions, with a public statement issued on Tuesday, July 24, and the promise of a public demonstration scheduled for Saturday, July 28.

The NTUCB announced in a press release on Tuesday, July 24, that it stood in solidarity with the Police Association in its mission to protect and secure the rights and advance decent work for all police officers. The Congress lamented that police officers had been taken advantage of and disrespected as workers of this nation for too long.

The N.T.U.C.B. release condemned the commissioner’s actions saying, “the action of the Commissioner and the Ministry of Police  undermine and are an outright abuse of their powers; as they seek to stifle the voices of the affected workers to secure their rights.”

The Congress called on the Commissioner and the Minister responsible for Police to give the police officers the human dignity they deserve.

The Congress said it will not accept nor tolerate the “threatening the members of the Police Association and seeking to dismantle the Association,” which it said is clearly the current response of the Ministry of Police.

The Congress called on the National Assembly to consider changing the Law relating to the Police Association, which it said needs to be amended to afford these workers the right to defend and protect their rights.

The Police Association has begun lobbying with the Commissioner of Police on behalf of the aggrieved officers on Friday, July 13, and had criticized the transfers as “too hasty” when they spoke on Love FM’s morning talk show on Wednesday, July 18.

They said the transfers did not allow the transferred officers sufficient early warning to find living quarters near their new posting.

Some of the senior married officers who had only recently been transferred had rented a home for their family, had invested their savings in school expenses for the upcoming school year, and to have to uproot and start afresh at such short notice seemed unfair, even though the nature of the job is that police officers are periodically transferred to new assignments.

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