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Twitter, Facebook posse vs T&T ‘gunman’

By Lennox Grant

 The “gunman”, source of T&T terror, remains as faceless as “law enforcement” profiles are clueless. It’s been another year of high achievement for the proverbial gunman.  

 The year’s count of murders passes 400, but the country hardly knows if and how to feel badly about that. By this time in 2008, the pile of casualties by killings had reached nearly 550. 

Back then, Trevor Farrell was heard reflecting that “the murder detection rate is nowhere near First World”. While murder thus remains a largely unpunished crime, it advertises itself as unpunishable, and more or less risk-free and repeatable. The late Dr Farrell correctly reckoned that in “First World” places killers get caught, sooner or even much later. 

 Here, murder case files almost immediately go “cold”. Law enforcers, from acting Commissioner James Philbert apologising on behalf of the Police Service five years ago, to Stephen Williams, today’s acting incumbent, remain helpless.

Given the unchallenged conventional wisdom that the police need all the help they can get, the casting around is non-stop. US policing superstar William Bratton, “brought down” to help and advise, had time only to contribute just a one-liner, to the effect that “only mules, tools and fools work for free”, about paying police better to avert bribery temptations. 

It was as badly received as every animadversion or policy proposition by any foreign person as white as, say, Dwayne Gibbs, who served as Police Commissioner for about two years. A deep-set prejudice holds that, here in T&T, we have the know-how and the resources, including the people, to fix our own situation, up to the level of “First World”.

 The evidence, certainly with policing or “law enforcement”, suggests a different reality. But the uncorrectable T&T impulse is to go for more, much more, of the same. 

 As National Security Minister, Jack Warner proposed hiring 5,000 more Special Reserve Police. On the same principle of achieving overwhelming force in this “war” on crime, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley has advocated boosting the ranks of municipal police.

 Coming from the Canadian prairies, Dr Gibbs remained unaffected by the T&T superstition that ever more and more police are needed. His “21st Century Policing” idea supposed that it’s how officers are organised and deployed that matters. The Gibbs way called for more accountably productive use of police time, and less resort to traditional ways, such as the fiction of elongated workdays, that implied paid sleeping-in time, and dormitories inside stations.

Damn the expense: this has been the ruling injunction, as nobody dares count, or second-guess, the cost connected with policing. Last week, the police “fleet” was estimated at 1,300 vehicles. 

The figure passed largely unnoticed. But keeping that number of vehicles on the road presupposes a major management exercise for which somebody, somewhere, should be counting the cost, well before the Auditor General checks the books. 

 Meanwhile, a rebranding exercise has been underway. The Highway Patrol, and the Rapid Response Unit, each with distinctively painted vehicles came into being.

Over this year, too, other resources have been contemplated, officially and apparently not, for the police. A Flying Squad was wished into being, identified with former police officers and supported by some wishful thinking.

Let there be a Flying Squad, “properly established competently staffed and accounted for”, prayed Independent Senator Helen Drayton. Just then, however, National Security and police establishment people were distancing themselves from the “phantom” conception being championed with dubious or non-existent authority.

Later came my own turn to “like” into being, Facebook-style, an idea whose time had come to the Parliament in the form of a Defence (Amendment) Bill to give soldiers powers of arrest. The legislation remains still-born. I still favour the idea, singularly promoted in this space, for a traffic management battalion headed by an army captain, ideally trained in logistics at Sandhurst and in law at UWI. Into such a battalion, I would absorb the traffic wardens brought into being by Jack Warner. With army training those wardens would carry weapons that, in this age, will ensure they are taken seriously.

To my mind, this retains elements of a practical expedient for traffic-law enforcement, a need left largely unmet by today’s policing. It strikes me as a measured breaking of organisational and legislative eggs for the making of a law enforcement something politically and socially digestible.

An idea promoted in this space in 2013, I would happily revisit for adoption in 2014. Well, since nobody else’s is demonstrably better, I feel entitled to my own lyrics, conveying my own nostrums. 

National Security Minister Gary Griffith now pushes for the deputising of digital citizens as “virtual police officers”. His idea, bright and bold, sounds like recruiting Facebook and Twitter to the law enforcement cause. I salute that.

For the acting Commissioner, the key objective is to deprive the gunman of the means that define him a mystery menace. The top cop calls it “firearm recovery”.

After 360 illegal guns were found in 2013, let us wish him better luck in 2014. He is up against T&T’s most consistent success story: the gunman who shoots, and shoots again...

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