With under-performing Trinidad and Tobago police, it’s often difficult to tell where simple slackness ends and major corruption or criminal connivance begins, with countless examples to refer to over the years.
In this regard, the relatively prompt suspension of two officers, from under whose guard, on January 31, a prisoner escaped, can be taken as a hopeful sign of tightened-up accountability.
The rapidly successful tracking-down of alleged culprits in last week’s broad-daylight Cunupia murder of a businessman counts as an aberration to a general pattern of policing under-achievement against major crimes.
Unhappily, the more familiar pattern showed last month when the prisoner, now classed “armed and dangerous”, removed his handcuffs, overpowered escorting officers, and vanished without trace into the Mayaro countryside.
What looks to the public like a basic want of care and a failure of competence on the part of the officers must of course be dispassionately investigated, to the end, among other things, of defeating any cover-up. But to win and keep public trust, confidence, and co-operation, police authorities must take a hard line in episodes that show officers in as unforgivably bad a light as those in Mayaro, who so easily lost a prisoner.
The authorities must also be aware that suspensions (with or without pay, and the usual boisterous self-righteousness voiced by the Police Social and Welfare Association), with no investigative result, are sure to deepen public cynicism about and distrust of police.
Most citizens would scoff at the thought of any policeman under investigation in such a serious matter being suspended, with pay, as nothing more than a normal holiday and hardly the sort of disciplinary action that will serve as an example to other policemen and women.
But the subsequent inquiry must not be allowed to drag on, as is the norm, and should be concluded quickly, one way or the other, so that the paid holiday does not turn into long leave. And as is being echoed by the same Police Association, police officers who are found to be negligent in their duty should not just simply be transferred to another station and that is the end of the matter, with no corrective action taken against the guilty party.
The penalty should suit the offence and if any member of the Police Service is found to have aided and abetted a criminal in escaping from custody, then that charge should be laid against the offender.
There should not be a mere slap on the wrist and the alleged guilty party shown the door of the police station in question and pointed in the direction of another station in another part of Trinidad and Tobago.