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The blot of crime

At a murder count of 400 and counting, this is not where we had hoped to end 2013.
With the increased deployment of resources towards tackling gang-related activity, we would have expected some break of the trend. However, it is clear that the Police Service remains far from getting on top of gang criminality which is the single most significant element in driving up the murder rate.
Highest attention is therefore inevitably drawn to acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams’ 2014 pledge to “address” detection rates in murder that he candidly admits to be “very low”. All of T&T shares the CoP’s concern about the area of police performance that leaves him “not proud”. For the country has, over the last decade at least, consistently got the worst of all worlds. Perpetrators of murder have steadily improved their performance and their daring. Meanwhile, the capacity of the T&T Police Service to counter this criminal advance has declined. It sounds promising that the authorities will be seeking to sharpen the skills of the all-too-familiar crime scene investigators, or CSI. Their apparently painstaking work fails to add up to what is scientifically needed to solve murders. One clear emphasis of National Security Minister Griffith appears to be on winning citizens over to the side of law enforcement. He expressed confidence in the prospects of “crowdsourcing for encouraging people to tell the police what they see and what they know about crimes, especially murder. It is not clear how this builds on, or relates to, the work of Crimestoppers which has had for years a very well-developed system for information gathering and informant anonymity. Where systems already exist, the minister would be better off lending his ministry’s support to strengthen them rather than re-inventing the wheel.

The more important point to be made, however, is that combatting crime requires the energies of all. The evidence for years now is that this is not a job for the police alone. Getting citizens to throw their support behind the police, however, is easier said than done, especially in the context of the deep cynicism and suspicion that colour the public’s perception about police officers. This is a reality that the CoP needs to accept and deal with as an imperative in re-building public trust in an institution that needs public trust in order to function at optimum capability.
In this, the willingness of the Police Complaints Authority to investigate complaints about police officers, and its scrupulousness in protecting and delivering on its mandate are critical. Equally important is human resource development strategies within the Police Service. The quality and development of officer talent are vital to the task of improving the profile of the police force. The days are long gone when the primary value of a police officer was brawn. Investigation and detection needs intelligence, a passion for justice and a commitment to bringing cases to a satisfactory conclusion.
As T&T prepares to make the crossing into 2014, these are some of the matters that should preoccupy the minds of the CoP. Having confessed his own disappointment over the Police Service’s performance in 2013, we can only wish him a better record for 2014. Our very lives might depend on it.
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