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A police officer's lot

By Dana Seetahal

I was interested to read a flyer distributed to members of the Police Service, apparently by the central committee of their association, in support of a day of protest by the police. The flyer states, "As a police officer, I—deliver babies, provide counselling, father the fatherless, leave my family home to provide security and safety to yours, provide legal advice, am a community leader and am a referee and an arbitrator." This was meant to support an assertion that police officers are persons who "work like an elephant, eat like an ant".

Official duties?

Interestingly enough, there was no mention of most of the official duties of police officers contained in the Police Service Act. These are, firstly, to preserve the peace and detect crime and other breaches of the law. While it is true that a few police officers may have had to deliver babies, I do not accept that this constitutes a "duty" of an officer or one for which he should be compensated. Far more important, surely, is the fact that he must arrest persons found committing any offence and prosecute persons who commit offences.

I wonder why the person/s who prepared the flyer did not see it fit to include what police officers are really expected to do under the law? Perhaps it did not seem eye- catching enough? As it is, based on that flyer, officers are doing things they are not supposed to do even in case of an emergency. I do not know on what basis the police are qualified to "provide legal advice". If they do, they might well be in breach of the Legal Profession Act since, as I understand it, only lawyers are qualified to do so.

As for providing counselling, I hope it is only in a most generic sense that officers do so—if they do so at all—such as in giving advice or offering a shoulder to lean on. Otherwise untrained persons seeking to perform such services may do more harm than good. I also find it hard to believe that in general police officers "father the fatherless". If some do so—hats off to them, but the distrust of the police expressed by wide cross-sections of the society would not lead one to conclude that this was a common event.

Finally, as regards the contents of the flyer, if I were a police officer I would not wish to be deemed a "community leader" in this day and age. That term, apparently coined in the last decade during the time of alliances between members of various governments and members of certain communities, has come to have ascribed to it clear negative connotations. It connotes to most people, who use it tongue-in-cheek, a crime don or former member or associate of a gang. This was particularly so following the notorious Crowne Plaza meeting of gangsters some five or more years ago.

Emphasise real hardships

If the police are serious about making a play for a higher wage increase, it would seem to me that they would be better off emphasising the fact that the nature of their jobs in these times put their lives at risk. Does anyone know how many officers were killed or injured in the course of the performance of their jobs in the last ten years or so? That figure might be of use in demonstrating to the authorities and public not only why they should be better paid, but also the need for better medical coverage for officers and their families.

Working conditions

The flyer also highlighted the poor working conditions that many officers have to suffer. I myself visited the so-called new Police Headquarters in south recently, and was appalled at the changing "room" that female officers had to use: it was the toilet area, where most of the toilets were broken. There is no doubt that the majority of officers work in bad conditions and the fact that they still manage to function at all is commendable. It is suggested, however, that officers should explain the point that this untenable situation must be a recipe for poor results and if the Government expects some improvement in the crime situation it needs to deliver at that level. 

My understanding is that construction of the six or seven police stations that were to be delivered since the People's National Movement administration has again been halted while top executives of the Police Service again haggle about the designs. If this is true, it is another gripe that officers may validly have and which could lead to further frustration.

National upheavals

The Police Service has shown that it may be relied upon during times of national upheavals, such as the attempted coup. When called upon to put in extended hours at Carnival or other times requiring all hands on board, they have delivered. Daily, many officers go the extra mile, not only in working extra hours but in being "on call" frequently without pay. They are our immediate protection against hardened criminals. Merely because there are some delinquent officers is no reason for failing to recognise the essential service they perform as a national body.

If the executive can realise that sacrifices must be made to go the extra mile in securing the services of a Commissioner and Deputy at competitive packages, it is not unreasonable to expect that they similarly recognise the value of the regular police officer who tries his best in difficult circumstances. Improving the Police Service cannot be restricted to "improvement" only at the top.

• Dana S Seetahal is a former

independent senator.

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