Sunday, February 25, 2018

Post-Carnival challenge: Keep the trust of public

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Mark Fraser

 Law enforcement authorities, gratified by the out-turn allowing them to reckon Carnival 2014 as “safe”, must now be pondering how to repeat what had been done right. T&T necessarily shares the official satisfaction about the relative fall in the crime rate during the festival.

It is worthy of celebration that the forces, and the administrators, of law and order found it possible to assure an acceptable degree of protection and security for participants and others during the big national festival just ended. A report by the National Security Ministry published last weekend actually showed a decline in serious crimes between 2012 and 2014—from 122 to 46. 

On the basis of such figures, the ministry editorialised that T&T had had its “safest Carnival ever in 2014”. Such superlatives belong of course to outpourings from politically charged sources. They came in a full-page ad that just managed to include images of National Security Minister Gary Griffith, wearing combat boots as he strode ahead, in the manner of someone leading the troops.

Mr Griffith was of course earnestly claiming the credit for a “safe” Carnival. But his ministry’s report was headlined “THANKS” to the T&T public. 

The upbeat message trumpeted collaboration between the public and the police. “Law-abiding citizens working with law-enforcement officers equates to 100 per cent unbeatable success against criminals,” the ministry said.

In this country, witnesses have notoriously faced real and present danger of criminal intimidation and retaliation. It marks a highly positive development when ordinary citizens feel free to report to the police crimes they see and/or know about. 

Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams warmly praised the “partnership between the Police Service and other law enforcement and the law-abiding public”. But he also acknowledged a boost in “manpower” deriving from bigger Defence Force support, and some 1,000 special reserve police officers.

It all made for law-enforcement strength “way beyond what was utilised in the past”. He also cited the officers newly mobilised, who had been trained in administering breathalyser tests. Such new capacity must have ensured that liquor-impaired drivers were kept off the road, thereby reducing the danger of accidents.   

Naturally, Mr Griffith also mentioned the contribution of the new National Operations Centre to what he sees as a Carnival 2014 success story. 

The T&T public no doubt remains less impressed by how it was all done than by the fact of what was achieved—a safe, or safer, if not recognisably the safest, Carnival. Still, Carnival comes but once a year, and the crime-dreading public, who will have noted an extraordinary crime-fighting effort, will remain anxious about how the authorities will keep it up. 

Doubtless, this is why Mr Williams observed that though crime “numbers may be dropping, the public perception is different”.