Belize police women face disciplinary action over dreadlock hairstyle

Friday, May 03, 2019

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BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) – The attorney representing several police women facing disciplinary charges after failing to remove their dreadlocks hairstyles, says her clients were not in breach of the law.

“The rules say no elaborate head decorations or extensions. If you read the rules in its full context it is clear what it was intended to target- is additions to your hair. This is not an addition. This is a particular hairstyle,” said attorney Leslie Mendez

“Unless you justify that it is necessary as a part for you to be able to carry out your duties as a police officer, that that restriction is necessary because for some reason they need to come and say that the hairstyle in some way derogates from your ability to carry out your duties effectively.

“In our mind they have not been able to justify that in any way. What it is it's an enforcement of a particular interpretation of the rules which is now saying that head decorations are considered to be locks and are now in breach of the dress code at the police department,” she added.

The six police officers, including a senior member of the Belize Police Department, have been accused of willfully disobeying a lawful command from Commissioner of Police Chester Williams.

The women had been instructed to remove their dreadlocks hairstyles, which the department says violates Section seven of the Standing Orders.

Mendez is representing at least three of the police women and she has written to Commissioner Williams, stating that his request to have the WPCs remove their dreadlock hairstyle is unlawful.

In the letter, Mendez tells Williams that there is no legitimate reason to justify the ban on dreadlocks at the Police Department.

But ACP Dezerie Phillips Magdaleno, Commander, Eastern Division, told reporters eight police women had the particular hairstyle.

“Over a period of time, the senior command has been meeting with them, giving them an opportunity to remove the hairstyle. Two of them did the right thing and removed it. We have six of them who are adamant who will not take them out.

“One is a senior officer and five are junior ranking officer and the charge stem from that. The bottom line is discipline is discipline. Discipline has been eroded for too long within the department and the hairstyle is one of them. Women appearance is one of them,” Magdaleno said.

“If we continue to let it erode then we will be a falling department. We cannot afford to let that happen. In my thirty three years of police service, I have never, ever put anything like that in my hair. That is no discrimination.

“The rules are there. Rules are rules. Anywhere you go, there are rules, standards that you have to abide and this is not one of them. We have no detected any males and similarly we have to bear in mind that we are not running an animal farm here in the police department. If we open the doors to have and allow women to use dreadlocks then why shouldn't we allow the men? You tell me why,” Magdaleno added.

But Mendez insists that the authorities have misinterpreted the existing rules.

“So our position is that that interpretation is wrong and that locks are not included in the rules for now. Even if they are included and even if we have a court that says that elaborate head decorations does include locks what we say is that this has significant constitutional rights implications and we say that such a policy and such a rule would be breaching the constitutional rights of these officers specifically in respect to their freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and protection against anti-discrimination,” she said.

Commissioner Williams told the media via WhatsApp that having discussed the matter with his senior management team, it was decided that the matter will be submitted to the Solicitor General for legal advice.

As a result the disciplinary hearing against the women has been put on hold pending the advice.

“This is being done in the interest of fairness to the officers as well as to ensure the department does not incur unnecessary expense or waste time in court fighting something that may be able to resolve otherwise.

"So for now, the appearance of the female officers before the Disciplinary Tribunal is on hold pending the review by the Solicitor General,” William said.


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