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Caribbean police work is not always fun in sun

A lawsuit filed by Antigua's ousted police commissioner shows it's not always an idyll when a veteran officer from U.K. or Canada chooses to spend the twilight of his career working in the Caribbean.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A lawsuit filed by Antigua's ousted police commissioner shows it's not always a tropical idyll when a veteran officer from Britain or Canada chooses to spend the twilight of his career working in the Caribbean.

A retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Gary Nelson is suing the Caribbean government that recruited him, accusing Antigua and Barbuda of political interference amid a high-profile double murder case.

Across the English-speaking Caribbean, other officers enlisted to help fight a wave of violence describe being confronted with high-profile cases, a lack of resources and island politics.

"It sounds wonderful and interesting to be in the Caribbean and be commissioner, but I never would have accepted this position if I had known what the government is like," Nelson said in a phone interview on Wednesday from Ottawa.

Nelson told The Associated Press the government refused to give him authority he needed to modernize the police force. He was dismissed after two British honeymooners were shot dead — a crime that threatened the tourist industry.

Antigua Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said last month that Nelson was fired because of "unsatisfactory" performance but did not provide details. Government spokesman Maurice Merchant declined to comment further.

Merely an impression of action?
Nelson said Antigua and Barbuda hired him to only give the impression the twin-island government was tackling its soaring crime rate.

In St. Lucia, Police Commissioner John Broughton — a Briton — had to go to court Thursday to face a police superintendent who alleges Broughton intimidated him.

Shortly after Broughton's appointment in 2006, vandals broke into his office, poured water over his computer and left a note with a crude drawing of a gun saying "Broughton will never be Commissioner."

The local police union is demanding his resignation over complaints about his leadership style.

In Jamaica, former Scotland Yard detective Mark Shields was brought in to curtail a sky-high homicide rate in 2005 and is struggling to gain support for initiatives such as standardized police reports. With homicides continuing virtually unabated, Shields told AP he cannot waste time on political feuds.

Early in his tenure, Shields was the lead investigator into the suspected murder of the coach of Pakistan's cricket team during the 2007 World Cup. As the investigation stumbled, politicians accused police of incompetence and even one of Shields' fellow officers criticized him before authorities determined the coach had died of natural causes.

Crime wave
The islands began aggressively recruiting foreign police as a crime wave, blamed on increasing drug trafficking and poverty, swept the Caribbean. A 2007 United Nations and World Bank study said the region's murder rate of 30 per 100,000 people was the highest in the world.

The former British colonies rarely turn to U.S. police, although Guyana tried to hire former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik as a national security adviser. He withdrew because of corruption allegations in the United States.

There have been successes, however.

In Trinidad, British officers have reportedly improved the skills of local police, joining a special unit that tackles homicides and kidnapping.

In February, Antigua named Nelson and three other Canadians to its top four police posts. But things got off to a bad start when opposition politicians criticized the appointments, saying they took jobs away from islanders.

‘Frustrated and handcuffed’
Tensions boiled after British honeymooners Catherine and Benjamin Mullany were shot dead in July in their cottage at a beachside resort. Nelson, a former superintendent of the Ottawa police, said the justice minister demanded daily written reports, which he resisted.

"I don't want to write down and get it leaked out what we're doing on this homicide," said Nelson. "I've just felt frustrated and handcuffed."

His lawsuit, filed Monday in Antigua, says he was illegally fired and seeks the balance of pay on his two-year contract. He said he was never told why he was dismissed. Before the firing, a local man and a teenager were arrested and charged in the Mullany killings.