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May 2, 2019

Women Police Officers Fighting Ban on Dreadlocks

Six women police officers, one who is 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 were instructed to remove their dreadlocks hairstyles, which the department says violates Section seven of the Standing Orders. The women: Aleea Wade, Shantel Berry, Vanessa Kerr, Crystal Morales, Maria Grinage, and Sergeant Christine Avila, refused to do so and have received charge sheets. Two complied and removed the hairstyles.  But tonight, the others are facing disciplinary action. At least three of the women have retained the services of attorney Leslie Mendez who 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. At the biweekly police press briefing, ACP Dezerie Phillips Magdaleno was tasked to respond to questions posed by the media. ACP Magdaleno cemented the department’s position on this issue.

 

Dezerie Phillips Magdaleno

ACP Dezerie Phillips Magdaleno, Commander, Eastern Division

“As a matter of fact, it was eight female officers who were detected with this kind of 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. 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.”

 

Leslie Mendez

Leslie Mendez, Attorney

“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. 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. We just wanted to highlight that because it is not clear cut as it was post before where it would have seem that you could have easily found a rule that says that locks were prohibited. 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.”


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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