The discovery in an abandoned house in Sea Lots of three missing persons, two teenaged girls and a young woman of 20, raises worrying questions about how the police handle reports of missing persons and about the responsibility of communities to look out for the vulnerable in their midst.
As he contemplated the awful likelihood that some residents knew about the girls' plight and had said nothing, Allan Samuel, councillor for St Ann's River South, came to the stark conclusion that, “There are demons living among us”.
What appeared to hurt him most was the fact the father of the youngest girl was a fellow resident who was in open anguish when his daughter went missing after being dropped off by a taxi at Busy Corner in Chaguanas.
Sadly, such un-neighbourly behaviour is no longer as shocking as it was in the days when community cohesion was one of the nation's strongest assets. Today, even those who might claim to share Mr Samuel's shock are likely to walk past their neighbour's need and avert their gaze from criminal action in an act of self-preservation.
Though tragic, it is hard to insist that people, especially the least protected, should speak out and go to the police when they live the painful reality of the long reach of criminals into places of power, including the Police Service.
The local networks of information and action that have been destroyed by the breakdown of communities have in no way been compensated for by improvements in police intelligence.
In fact, the quality of policing has itself been a victim of the massive community breakdown resulting in a relentless degradation of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service's efforts at protecting and serving us all.
Faced with the horror of three missing youths being kept in the midst of a vibrant, open community, Councillor Samuel could do little more than call for “regular police patrols”. Even as he made the call, however, he would have felt the pointlessness of it.
For, assuming that the TTPS bothered at all, regular patrols are invariably anything but regular. They appear during moments of intense public anxiety only to disappear when the public's attention turns to something else.
In the case of missing persons' reports, the blasť attitude of the police is well-known. Police stations are nests of bias and discrimination, especially against the poor. The attitude is well-documented in the long history of dismissal and disrespect that ordinary citizens have suffered at the hands of police officers.
For as long as this newspaper has been published, we have received accounts of citizens being ignored, rebuked, taunted and even laughed at when they go to file reports about a missing relative.
In the case of missing girls, in particular, the police are prone to open scepticism. Until a body turns up, many officers are inclined to wave off the report with a dismissive suggestion that she has “run away with a man”.†If the TTPS has any capacity for review and evaluation, it should seize upon this incident in Sea Lots and interrogate itself.