Saturday, February 24, 2018

To wreck or not


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The headline in one newspaper in relation to Mayor Lee Sing, "Don't blame me for city wreckers" suggested that there is something wrong or illegal in the recent spate of wrecking by the police in downtown Port of Spain for which someone should be "blamed". The mayor was making the point that he and the City Corporation are not behind the move but the bigger issue is what's wrong with the police implementing the law?

The article quoted the mayor as saying that he received calls from the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) and even the Minister of Local Government asking whether he could "do something" presumably about the wrecking. Assuming that is so and neither party has denied it it raises the question whether such persons believe that the police, whoever they are, should take instructions from politicians in carrying out their functions.

While there are some areas in respect of which the City Police, who fall under the corporation, may look to their administrative heads for direction, in relation to the general policing by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service it is the Commissioner who has command of the Police Service no politician. If the Traffic Department has finally moved to implement the traffic parking laws surely they should be commended for this and not criticised or called upon to desist.

Certainly DOMA is out of place to be crying that they will lose customers because people have nowhere to park whilst they shop and a fortiori the police must not enforce the traffic laws which affect their customers. This is an untenable statement and one that is unbecoming of persons who see themselves as a legitimate interest group. Month after month DOMA comments on the crime situation in downtown Port of Spain and the need for police presence and action. Apparently they feel that only laws that affect them adversely should be enforced and not others which they say might adversely affect their sales and business.

This seems to be highly hypocritical and self-serving. Are there not many car parks (NIPDEC has two) in downtown Port of Spain that persons can park if they wish for a fee? This fee is very small when compared to similar fees in many other cities. There is also alternate parking in many areas of Port of Spain north of Park Street and along some of the side streets. Is it that customers who do not choose such options expect to park right there on Henry, Frederick, Chacon or St Vincent Street next to the place of business they are visiting and the police must comply or condone this regardless of the fact that we have laws that say otherwise? Is this what DOMA expects?

The Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act in Section 65 authorises the Minister (under whose portfolio traffic falls) to make orders (which are subsidiary laws) for parking. From 1979 various orders have been made regulating parking in several areas in this country, including Port of Spain and its environs; San Fernando and Tobago. There are laws which prohibit (1) parking totally along certain streets; (2) parking on one side of the street or provide for parking on different sides on alternate days.

For instance, parking is totally prohibited in Port of Spain on parts of the streets around the State prison. In San Fernando it is similarly prohibited to park at any time on Chancery Lane and La Pique Road while in Tobago certain parts of Bacolet Street are also so designated. In contrast parking on alternate days is permitted on certain parts of streets such as St Vincent Street and Frederick Street.

I agree with the Commissioner of Police that it is unacceptable for the police to be complaining (as they have done in their briefings) about traffic violations and not exercise the lawful authority entrusted on them. This, he says, is one of the ways of delivering an improved form of policing to T&T. I would add to that the need for consistency in this form of enforcement if we are to see any positive effect, rather than the rather spasmodic enforcement of the traffic parking laws that obtained previously and was halted after complaints by, among others, merchants in Port of Spain.

For those who may question what enforcement of traffic laws has to do with improved policing and ultimately the reduction of crime I commend the "broken window" theory which was successfully pursued in many cities in the US during the 1990's in a bid to reduce crime. Based on a bestselling thesis by George Kelling and Catherine Coles it posits that restoring order in a society will redound to reducing crime in communities.

Realising that many police strategies to control crime had failed in the past and that there was a connected growth in public disorder the police set about focussing in a concentrated manner on public order crimes. The NYPD first focused on cleaning up the subways and attacked infractions such as panhandling, writing graffiti and loitering. Emboldened with that success other cities decided to "take back the streets". One of the activities that some cities such as Baltimore engaged in was treating with abandoned buildings. This they did with the assistance of the community in some cases. House were boarded up or torn down; sidewalks were cleared and trash removed; vacant lots were turned into gardens. The effect was that drug traffickers were hard pressed to carry out their trade in the bold fashion they were accustomed and the result was a reduction in violent crimes in a short time by over 50 per cent.

In the same vein it is time that the police in T&T take back the streets. If they are starting with proper traffic enforcement and the most obvious is the illegal parking then all power to them. Soon enough we might enjoy a reduction in disorder on the streets and eventually in crime.

Dana S Seetahal is a former

independent senator