By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government’s handling of the pre-retirement leave process for several senior police and defence force officers “ruined” their departures, according to outgoing Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Stephen Dean.
He said the “political buzz” around the move gave the impression the officers involved were “holding on and refusing to let go of their glory years,” rather than being open to moving on.
“It hurt,” Senior ACP Dean admitted in an interview with The Tribune. “I wanted it to be done with more respect because the idea the public now has, is that we didn’t want to go home.
“We sacrificed a lot for our organisations. Now instead of our vacation time being looked upon with respect and admiration, it is being questioned and looked at with a level of anger by the public.”
Senior ACP Dean, a member of the Royal Bahamas Police Force for the past 38 years, is one of eight senior officers who received a notice to take accrued vacation leave last month ahead of retirement.
Additionally, several Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers were also given similar notices.
Addressing the matter over the weekend, Senior ACP Dean said: “I don’t have a problem with being asked to leave; I honestly was expecting it from the start of the year. My issue is with the way it was done. The discussion could have occurred somewhat smoother, not come as a shock and a ‘it’s time to go next week’ kind of feeling.”
He added: “I wished that part was done differently. But it’s funny because I always tell the young officers to be prepared for anything, because the government can say at any minute, ‘we want to do something else or something different.’
“I just hoped for it to be done with more respect. I know for me, I don’t mind going home because my family is waiting for me.
“I want the public to respect our sacrifice. That time isn’t money owed or time held on to, that’s time away from our family, missed weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and vacation trips.”
He continued: “So it hurts when I hear my vacation time being discussed the way it is because it is truly a sacrifice. I have the comparative advantage over some of my colleagues because I am so well known in the public’s eyes. They know Stephen Dean, so when they see the time and my departure, they know it’s more to do with a man serving his country than anything else.
“But let’s be clear, a senior police (officer) can’t take time off during a crime wave.
“Yes, there were days I wanted to call in sick or go on vacation, but how can I when the country needs me to do my job?”
The moves, since being announced, have become a talking point with members of both sides of the political divide giving their position on what it could mean for the respective agencies.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames has pointed to the significant financial strain excessive accrued vacations poses for the government as key reason for the moves.
In late March, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis was also asked to address the controversy, and he echoed Mr Dames’ sentiments.
“What’s wrong with asking individuals to go on vacation? When we came in we initiated a policy, government initiated a policy,” Dr Minnis said on March 23. “We asked individuals who have long vacation leave to go on vacation because this government will not pay you for it. That was a problem of the past. We are watching the Bahamian money.
“I’m not saying this happened with the police. Now don’t get me wrong. I worked in the public service. I came up through the public service and it was not unusual that individuals employed in the public sector would have taken their leave but not record it and then at the end coming near their retirement they would have three four years vacation.”
However, the Progressive Liberal Party claimed that a “political purge” was taking place in the police force, charging that it was an attempt to eliminate PLP supporters from the public service.
PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell has slammed the move as “evil and wicked”.
Nonetheless, Senior ACP Dean defended the RBPF against claims of political meddling, insisting that over his years of service, he never witnessed any sort of political interference.
He said despite the rumblings, the RBPF has remained a mandate-centric agency, where directives are discussed with political figures, but handed down exclusively by the senior command of the force.
He explained: “The basic mandate of the force doesn’t change. We might put some relish on things and dress it up, that’s the politics, but it still comes down to the basics, that’s the execution.
“Police have to prevent crime and protect life and property. That’s the basics and that will never change. Now people who are in charge, when they change, we see changes in approach and faces.
“Now that part is true, but, I want to make it clear, no politician has ever come to me…I’ve never seen a circumstance where a politician has told a police how to police,” he said.
“I’ve seen recommendation and mentions of, ‘hey look at this or do more of this.’ Now, there were times over my years where things have been done with more of a political spin. But you have to understand and respect that these persons are voted into office and when things go bad, it’s on them. That’s a lot to live up to,” he added.
“Over the years, I’ve been tied to every party. Every time the government changed, someone said to me, ‘boy Dean, your people reach.’ I say to them, I am loved and respected by all because my job comes first. I am a man that love standards. I am not cutting through nothing and do what it takes to get the job done.
“So if a government comes in, I read the manifesto and I get to work on the things being emphasised and seeing how best we can relate that to our overall mandate as a force. Nothing wrong with that,” he said.