It had looked like a quiet night in the life near Curepe Junction, where a casino’s shut-tight façade belied the “OPEN” neon sign, three or more rum shops, and stalls offering doubles among other food, all looked lightly patronised.
Just before 2 a.m., my northbound drive faced sudden obstruction. A police SUV, doors open, in the middle of Southern Main Road, stopped traffic in both directions. Drama was unfolding: shootout, roadblock, breathalyser..? What luck.
At a respectful distance, I waited, as a black-clad officer showed up to close the SUV doors and, taking his time, to move the vehicle kerbside, signalling “Pass” to this onlooker.
The police had squarely blocked a car claiming the middle of the southbound road. As I made my own way between the two vehicles, I observed a dreadlocked man being aggressively close-marked by another black-clad officer, who was also examining his papers.
As this officer turned briefly to scrutinise me, I recognised an Oprah-influenced afro, and a holstered magnum emphasising a shapely hip.
The encounter was one I would have preferred to avoid. But after I had turned into the Eastern Main Road to continue homeward, I felt good about the experience.
Police were working. And women were prominent among them. It entailed a set piece designed to impress someone like me who had been wondering aloud about the invisibility of women in police operations.
I have also longed to see police working, and to appreciate the results. My saying so could surprise frequenters of this space who may have read characterisations of the police as variously “brain dead”, and even “locho”, a term in Lise Winer’s dictionary with mostly masculine associations.
It was dismaying to watch the footage from the September 2 Beetham uprising, which showed the police as leaderless, clueless and flat-footed. Still, for me, the obligation remained to choose sides, when no unqualified “good” or “evil” offered itself.
In the hope of achieving or preserving minimal livability, I opt for the side at least formally dedicated to sustaining law and order. Forced to choose as between brutalities, I have to weigh police brutality as somehow the lesser evil than the more rampant and mostly unaccountable criminal brutality.
This eventually marks the shaping of a political attitude that is forged from the longing for something to happen, to get a move on, to get things fixed somehow. It’s thus with some relief, for example, that I greet the arrival day of proportional representation, which has been around in the status of something devoutly to be wished, for nearly 40 years.
It seems less important now how it came to pass for next month’s local government elections, than that a real-time exercise, achieved by hacking at assorted gordian knots, will finally occur. About that, I remain reassured by how it’s characterised by someone with identification neither as politician nor a revolutionary.
Michael de la Bastide, former constitutional reform commissioner, and twice a chief justice, recalled having proposed proportional representation since the mid-1970s. “The current proposal appears to be almost a pilot project in the context of the local government councils,” he said.
T&T, then, has achieved a “pilot project” in constitutional reform, for which real-world results will shortly be available for evaluation. That merits applause, even if it has come by way of parliamentary ambush. The alternative, it seems to me, is marking time and continued wishful thinking.
By the same token, is the Police Service fixable in some way short of what millennial social change might be promised to deliver? Prospects of limited progress, or just experiments, caused me to be turned on to “21st Century Policing”, as advanced in the name of the short-lived leadership of Dwayne Gibbs.
If it meant reorganising deployment of officers and changing uniforms, it appeared worthy of trying. If the change also meant liberating police women, by putting them in trousers, leaving the skirts for parade display, then that held rich possibilities for more effective utilisation of law-enforcement human resources.
But the brief Gibbs period was cursed more for how it came about than for what it delivered or promised. Police Service Act 2006, for which, nobody (certainly not PSC chairman Ramesh Deosaran, then an Independent Senator) now claims ownership, provides for a foreigner, who must inescapably be paid the equivalent of his foreign-exchange market worth wherever.
All that had been consciously willed into being by the T&T Parliament, with Keith Rowley trotting along tamely in the direction where Patrick Manning led the PNM majority.
Today, Dr Rowley upholds the job-description criterion of knowing T&T “culture”, and the advisability of recruiting a T&T national abroad. Would that he could find any soca-loving Trini abroad, also qualified in policing, to take the job for less than Dr Gibbs had been paid!
We’re still left, then, without any road map of where to go in moving T&T policing forward. Have done his diagnostic, former New York police chief William Bratton will inevitably be again contracted to write the software for the future of T&T policing.
We’ve got to restart somewhere.