Tools

Old-model police vs 21st century crime

By Lennox Grant

Like Doppy Dopson, letter-writing in the Express, I saw the giant gobs of "cake" dropped by police horses and left reeking under the Carnival sun. Unlike Dopson, however, I welcome the return of those noble steeds to assignments other than ceremonial.

Having seen mounted troopers gallop into action, in the wee hours of a New York morning, against a 32nd Street disturbance, and in Kingston, Jamaican officers high in the saddle at intersections directing traffic, I recognise horses as potential assets in policing.   

The Dopson letter called valid attention to the environmental liabilities of deploying mounted police on the Carnival road. For the mission of the liveried CEPEP and City Council workers didn't appear to include cleaning up after horses.

There must be—and there is—a better way. It is the Canadian way, demonstrated by the elasticised sacks lashed under the tails of the Toronto police horses. That simple expedient assures a neutral impact on the metropolitan street-level environment.  

Aspects of the Canadian way of policing are what T&T had almost imported with former commissioner Dwayne Gibbs. In his short, unhappy T&T career, Dr Gibbs was kept too busy to get around to applying to the Cabinet, or whoever, for permission to import sludge sacks for the horses under his command.

So it is, here. Virtual sleeping policemen stall if not block change or progress in nearly every direction. Hopes were thus early dashed that, under Dr Gibbs, the traffic police could toss the laughable clipboards they hold for writing foolscap-size "tickets". Cabinet and the Police Social Welfare Association no doubt stood ready to veto adoption of the palm-size pads Toronto cops carry in their back pockets.

His brisk initiative to dress T&T police in more "tropical" uniforms was predictably resisted by the association, and finally overruled by the Partnership administration.  At a time when women are seeking US armed-forces combat roles, T&T policewomen, in blue-black safari jackets and straight skirts, remain standing in the sun, evidently disadvantaged in running after any fleeing felon, or stooping to examine a body.

A resiliently stick-in-the-mud disposition, shared at political, governmental, and even "civil society" levels, objectively prefers such a disfavouring or disabling outcome, over anything proposed by a white Canadian.

For the investment by at least two administrations, over nearly a decade, in police "transformation" or "reform", there is almost nothing to show, against an unchanging soundtrack of fighting words, and other words.

"I offer the national community my resolve that we shall bring this state of mayhem to an end," said National Security Minister Jack Warner. He was grieving aloud for the killing of Sgt Hayden Manwaring. 

"We cannot afford not to bring this scourge down." 

"Resolve", "mayhem", "scourge" update the keywords in the rhetorical offensive against murders proliferating since the lifting of Carnival's restraining hand. It appeared wide swaths of Trinidad's landscape had become killing fields.

Murder datelines included Phillippine, La Romaine, San Fernando, D'Abadie, Claxton Bay, Tacarigua, Longdenville. Arima, Chaguanas. Apart from the East-West Corridor "hotspots" regularly headlined as Laventille, San Juan, Beetham Gardens, East Dry River, Cocorite.

By wresting away Sgt Manwaring's gun and shooting him and Constable Nicholas Phillip, the bandits signalled possession of the upper hand. The episode dramatised a police capacity shrunken almost to irrelevance. 

From Beetham Gardens one day later, came further evidence of where the initiative lies. Police had hardly withdrawn far, after carrying out searches that yielded nothing, when Darryl Daniel was shot dead, and his home burned down.   

Officers turned back, largely, as it turned out, to guard the fire fighters. Inside the bandit domain, arson is now a punitive measure. Fire fighters may no longer operate in the Beetham without armed protection, they told a reporter, explaining why they rolled up their hoses and rolled away immediately the police left. 

Police capacity, unimproved, even diminished, appears less and less a match for what the country is up against. The unholy combination of bad mind and reaction that ran Dwayne Gibbs' "21st Century Policing" out of town, without any more hopeful T&T option, stands as naked today as the Jack Warner rhetoric sounds empty.

In the realm of murder and arson, it is impunity that reigns. Murders are committed and recommitted because the chances of being caught are about the same as when running a red light, or exceeding the speed limit.

After about six months in the role, acting Commissioner Stephen Williams is voicing the helplessness learned from former commissioners. "We are doing everything we can do," he said, conceding that his "everything" avails little on the murder front, and pleading that "crime is a social phenomenon."

In the unhappy pattern of these crime-besieged times, police officers risen to the top sound more like social workers offering counsel. Never from them comes any ringing reassurance such as: "Give us the tools and we will finish the job."

 As an Independent Senator, Ramesh Deosaran had helped legislate Police Service Act 2006. As Police Service Commission chairman today, he twists and turns with the "merry go-round" effect of the act's provisions for filling the Police Commissioner vacancy.

It gets even worse: he concedes that another foreign commissioner is possible.

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