Friday, December 15, 2017

Restoring trust is essential for the Police Service

Policing around the world is under pressure and public scrutiny as never before. The demands on modern policing are such that effective and accountable leadership is essential. All too often, management structures are unresponsive and those in senior roles are reluctant to embrace change, let alone acknow­-

ledge failings and accept responsibility for inadequacies or serious misdemeanours. Many citizens around the world are keen to know precisely what the word “service” in the title “Police Service” stands for in the modern age.

To citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, the story in regard to the continued deterioration of public trust in the Police Service is a familiar one. While there never were halcyon days when all was perfect, it is clear that there is a raft of issues and concerns that cannot simply be rubbished in the media, ignored and swept under the carpet. The charge sheet certainly makes disturbing reading:

• A perceived culture of impunity

• Anecdotal evidence of collusion with

criminal gangs

• Persistent rumours of extrajudicial killings

• A total absence in some quarters of

courtesy and people-management skills

and techniques

• Poor leadership and accountability

• Increasing signs of corrupt practices

• Intimidation using threats, verbal

aggression and physical assaults

• Rogue officers demanding sexual favours from both men and women

• Inadequate fitness standards that see many officers fall well below acceptable levels

of operational efficiency

• Excessive use of police vehicles that are often driven in an aggressive manner, with little or no reason other than to manifest naked power. Sirens and blue lights are routinely used to excess

• Defensive management structures that

appear to manifest little or no cognisance of the notion of public service

• A tendency to go for “the low-hanging fruit” and “the quick win” as opposed to tackling

serious organised crime and those elements

at a higher level who are responsible for

serious criminality

• A perceived aversion to investigating

white-collar crime

• As a publicly funded institution, there is considerable disquiet about the increased

politicisation of the Police Service.

• Inadequate training, in regard to the

current best practice concerning investigation into crimes of a sexual nature, child abuse

and various forms of cybercrime. Much

could be learnt in this regard by liaising

with centres of excellence such as:

• Racial discrimination—certain ethnicities appear to receive preferential treatment.

A knee-jerk rejection of such concerns would speak volumes of the defensive mindset of some in senior roles. In a democracy, we ignore perceptions, misconceptions and anxiety, at our peril. The issues that various demographics, ethnicities, economic groups and even some political party leaders are prepared to admit (even if in private) deserve to be taken seriously.

It would be utterly erroneous to portray the Police Service of Trinidad and Tobago as in some way irrevocably broken. There are a great many exemplary personnel doing a first-rate job, often in trying circumstances. It must not be forgotten that the vast majority of officers are imbued by a desire to perform their job in a professional manner but are occasionally failed by those in roles of responsibility. Conduct and attitude in police stations across the country vary enormously, and this is often down to those in charge, as well as issues concerning governance, resources, operational priorities and the pressures to massage crime and detection figures.

The challenge is to demonstrate that as a public service, the police are strong on values and low on waste and misconduct. Effective training and the drawing on best practice, both locally and in the form of services that share a similar tradition, is vital if trust is to be restored. The police must strive to earn the respect of all citizens and, equally, the public must never lose sight of the fact that every day, police officers put their lives on the line in the quest to keep us all safe and uphold the rule of law.

Working to protect and serve with pride is a constant challenge and requires first-rate leadership, high morale and the trust and co-operation of the very citizens whom the police are expected to serve and protect. If serious progress is to be made in addressing the current “trust deficit”, the acting Police Commissioner and the Minister of National Security will need to redouble their efforts and demonstrate a far firmer grasp and candour concerning current failings.

It is also imperative that the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) be given real teeth that it has thus far been denied. A strong case could also be made for the establishment of a specialist Leadership Academy, one that nurtures the core values, as well as the humility needed by those called on serve in the 21st century.

Finally, in view of the unique role that the Police Service of Trinidad and Tobago plays in working to uphold law and order, it is high time that a national monument be erected as a permanent memorial to all police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

• Mark T Jones is an international leadership specialist