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On captain’s bridge: The big fisherman

By Lennox Grant

 Trinidad, if not also Tobago had the feel of one big crime scene last week, as local and US gumshoes, shadowed by reporters, poked around and sniffed a trail felt to be hot. Well, hotter than usual in this T&T, where crime business is regularly left abruptly unfinished, and mysteries lie strewn around like long-time children’s unopened wonder bags.

 One bag whose contents stirred wonder two weeks ago was found in the trunk of a Gold Honda Civic parked in a Sea Lots police holding area. Other police, acting on “tip-off”, swooped down on the area, opened the car trunk, and discovered 55 kilogrammes of ganja.  

“The officers said they believed officers of the Stolen Vehicles Unit were part of the ploy to smuggle the drugs undetected,” the Guardian reported. Jealous rivalries, the report implied, pitted police against police. But so far from identifying potential to be exploited, this story line, it seemed, only stilled a sense of wonder.

Which is to say, T&T can expect to hear little or nothing more about ownership of and responsibility for 55 kilogrammes of ganja stashed in a car allegedly under guard by some police. The officers blessed with the tip-off were not inspired to stake out the joint, and await the furtive arrival of claimants to the ganja wonder bag. 

Civilian second-guessers might have seen in Sea Lots the promise of a “sting” operation to bust drug traffickers and their presumably police collaborators. But the story began and ended there and then, as prematurely as that related story of an unnamed officer defaming identifiable officers in the Stolen Vehicle Unit.

And T&T preserved unexpended its sense of wonder for the next jolting episode in the progression of bizarre flashes and incomprehensible out-turns. Ganja seized in the Sea Lots non-bust could be expected to figure in one of the police-beloved photo ops showing officers posed smugly around tables on which drugs and guns, captured like booty, are neatly arrayed.

Evidently, nobody, at any level of command in the Police Service, sees this practice of dumb show-and-tell as counter-productively mindless. So it continues, representing unconvincing efforts to portray police as high-achieving performers.

The rest of us conclude the cheesy media exposure must be what the beat officers want and need, and we are often loath to begrudge them. Nor are the police really defenceless. “Every time something goes wrong, you call police officers,” said acting Inspector Anand Ramesar, head of the Police Association. “And they continue to be burnt-out.”

Ag Insp Ramesar said at a time, earlier this month, when so much seemed to be going wrong, when so often fearful need arose to call the police. But so far from signalling anything like rising to the occasion of greatest  law enforcement need, their association chief instead lowered expectations of their “burnt-out” incapacities. 

By the time the $644 million cocaine cache had been uncovered in Norfolk, bearing a T&T stamp of origin, we here had got the disheartening message that our local police were doing the best they could. If no prospect appeared of raising their game to the challenge level of 1.8 murders a day, the import and export of cargoes of canned cocaine were indisputably beyond their reach. 

For a long moment, no one appeared manning the captain’s bridge of the law enforcement ship. Against Police Service Commission attempts to excoriate him publicly, Acting Commissioner Stephen Williams boasted only of his “thick skin”.

The law enforcement function was thus prepared for  takeover by National Security Minister Gary Griffith. This coincided with the arrival of DEA agents, in the gathering momentum of investigative business left unfinished with the Norfolk bust of T&T-origin cocaine.

Mr Griffith began to sound like a man fully armed and empowered to track the drug trafficking beast to its lair, wherever that might be. “Regardless of who it is, or how high it goes,” he said, flexing political muscle never before showed, “I will do all I can to ensure that the persons are brought to justice.” 

 If T&T had needed a sheriff, this suddenly sounded like him. If the sheriff needed a posse, DEA agents, swarming all over, appeared to make up the man-hunting combination of men on horseback. 

Shortly, Mr Griffith was signalling that the allies—the T&T Minister and the US DEA agents—needed no others. In words both fearless and warlike, he said: “We want to ensure that no other ministers in the Cabinet know what we are doing...because we don’t want them to tip off someone who might be a friend of these people and then they disappear.”

Overnight, the former Army captain had been promoted to Cabinet field marshal, reporting only to the Prime Minister. It had come to that: Kamla Persad-Bissessar was urgently drawing from options in reserve.

As T&T, and the rest of the government watched from the gallery, Gary Griffith, with his Yankee supporting cast, had been summoned to save the day. At last, guided once-overs of the T&T crime scene were expected to yield results in a haul of high-end wrongdoers. The big fish, everyone prayed, would meet their match in Big Fisherman Griffith.

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