The signs have always been there.
Then they were not.
But even when they were not there they are still here if we really want to see them.
"Tony what the (expletive deleted) you talking about?" my friend from Siparia asked. "I know they charge a police for selling some traffic signs and a few barriers but is that what you making all this kind of rigmarole about?"
"Ah!" I said meaningfully, "what I am saying is that the alleged stealing of signs by a policeman, if indeed he is guilty, is by itself a sign and that being a police is absolutely no barrier to larcenous intent or commission."
"We always know that," he said firmly and changed the topic to the leakage of the SEA exam results.
It is true that stealing by policemen is as old as there have been people appointed to keep the peace or to protect and serve.
"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" is a Latin phrase attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal who lived in the First Century AD.
It is translated as, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" If all it takes to commit a crime is motive, opportunity and means, the police have that in profusion and convert thought into action faster than a sign can become scrap iron.
Many years ago, we used to have a little shop in Carapichaima and when the police came they demanded drinks, food and "goods".
Sometimes they would send their wives and sometimes one of their many girlfriends.
You had to give them what they wanted or you would find yourself in trouble and maybe end up hanging in a cell at the Freeport Police Station – a not unusual occurrence. In Siparia, one of the policemen who later became a Deputy Commissioner was a Deacon in a local church but that didn't stop him. There was a calypso about a "thieving Bajan policeman that they find in Bonanza store" but nationality or country of origin was never a barrier although, even in those times, a sign.
I have been travelling around the Caribbean for the past twenty-one years. I am yet to see a policeman or Customs officer who lives within his stated or "official" means. When you go to a police station anywhere in Trinidad the police vehicles are wrecks parked conveniently for the people in charge to bring in mechanics to extract and sell parts. The most pristine, shiny cars with the best rims belong to the policemen inside. When you check their salaries, you have to wonder where they get the money to buy and maintain the cars. More, their wives and girlfriends (as one policeman boasted) "Eh travelling in no mini-bus. You mad!"
So the signs have always been there and while there might be a few minor barriers these have never mattered for much. One of the reasons is that the police and thieves have more in common with one another than with the middle class people for whose safety they're responsible. You see them joking and talking together outside the Magistrates' Courts and it is clear these are deep relationships and were it not for a Godfather in the force those who become "police" would easily have ended up, and may already have been, on the other side of the law.
One of the meanings of the word "serve" is "to copulate with" as in the sentence "The bull served the cow." So if you ever wondered why the police use the slogan, "To Protect and Serve" you can stop now.