Waterloo General Manager Kenny Mackey said yesterday that “unprovoked” harassment by police is putting more than 50 jobs at risk, a claim the police commissioner quickly denied.
“While emergency orders have been in force, the management and staff of Waterloo have strictly adhered to and in many cases exceeded all mandatory safety protocols,” Mackey said in a statement.
“Despite these efforts, we have fallen victim to a persistent campaign of intimidation, unsubstantiated raids and unprovoked shutdowns by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, causing severe damage to our business operations and reputation.”
But Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle, in a response sent to The Nassau Guardian, said police have been more than fair to the operators of the East Bay Street establishment.
Rolle said the police have been receiving complaints from members of the public about activities at Waterloo over the course of weeks. He said he sent senior officers to the establishment on numerous occasions to speak with the operators.
“On Sunday past, the police again received numerous complaints from motorists in the area about large crowds at the establishment,” Rolle said. “I personally received reports from members of the public as well.”
He said several patrol units and ambassadors from the COVID-19 unit went to Waterloo where officers reported roughly 300 people gathered outside and about 250 patrons on the inside. The officers ordered them to disperse and issued citations to the operator, the commissioner said.
Mackey said the bar and club, which also features a restaurant, has been operating at “a substantial loss” for several months.
He said it is “persevering” to keep its doors open and to look out for the interests of its staff during the pandemic.
“The prime minister pleaded with employers in an impassioned address to hold on to their staff for as long as financially possible — this is what we have been trying to do,” he said.
He added, “Unfortunately, it is proving impossible to maintain a loyal customer base when faced with large groups of fatigue-wearing, machine gun-outfitted officers descending upon the property with patrol lights flashing, terrifying guests and disrupting business repeatedly throughout the day, every day.
“The constant unprovoked interruption of business, the intimidation of our guests and staff members and the issuance of multiple unsubstantiated citations, which we can disprove with concrete evidence, leaves us dumbfounded.
“Regrettably, if this arbitrary, unfounded harassment persists, we will be forced to shutter our business, resulting in the immediate ceasing of operations for the foreseeable future and redundancy for our more than 50 dedicated staff members.”
He added, “Waterloo is unlucky in two senses: the property’s parking lot fronts onto a very busy thoroughfare and the venue has a previous history, under totally different management, as a crowded nightclub. Under the circumstances, it is understandable that passersby might see 50 or more cars and draw incorrect conclusions.”
Mackey said the matter has reached “such a level of absurdity” that raids to break up crowds are taking place on days when the property is closed.
He said closure would be “a huge blow” to its employees as well as its vendors and sanitation teams.
He said he has made attempts to meet with the commissioner and other officials “to set the record straight”, noting that those attempts have been unsuccessful.
“Waterloo believes it has gone above and beyond to safeguard the health and well-being of its guests, staff members and public at large, having gone so far as to invest more than $50,000 to construct a covered lakeside seating area so as to avoid moving guests indoors during inclement weather — a practice other restaurants are using in contravention of official protocols,” he said.
“In addition, despite Waterloo’s more than 15,000 square feet of outdoor space, which comfortably accommodates 500 guests under Emergency Order 6, our strict policy is to seat a maximum of 190 guests at capacity. The aforementioned are the facts. What appears on social media is misinformed opinion.
“We do not harbor any ill will toward members of the public for voicing their concerns. These are frightening and unprecedented times for everyone, ourselves included.
“All we ask is to be treated with respect and extended the courtesy of being allowed to operate uninterrupted and without persistent, unjustified harassment by law enforcement — those entrusted to protect and serve.”
Rolle said yesterday that senior officers met with the operators of Waterloo and shared the police’s concerns. They later accompanied the operator to the site where they conducted an inspection and the operators promised to ensure that the rules would be complied with, he added.
The commissioner said the operators were informed that the police will conduct periodic visits to the establishment.
But he said concerns have persisted.
“The suggestion that the police have been harassing the operator of the Waterloo restaurant is not so. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has expended a considerable amount of police resources in an effort to assist the operator in getting his business organized and again responding to complaints,” the commissioner said.
“As the matter is now in the arena of the Magistrate’s court, I will not comment on the actions taken by the police officers on Sunday other than to commend them for doing their job. I encourage all businesses to do their part to assist in keeping all safe during these most difficult times.”
• See the commissioner’s complete statement on this matter on page A4.
Rolle insists police have been more than fair to Waterloo