Sunday, January 21, 2018

While crime flies high...


Mark Fraser

DOES crime really surprise you? If the Prime Minister’s National Security Council intelligentsia had no knowledge of an illegal police unit operating that close to the State prison and international airport, how can it defend the streets, coastline and high seas, and battle cartels and crooked politicians?

As we plunge into another round of hand-wringing over crime, the great debate is upon us. Who to blame? This time, it’s about a high-flying political squad, clearly brought down to earth by the weight of over-promise and under-delivery, and a severely deluded “new Flying Squad” exposed before lift-off. The solution: the PM commands a photo opportunity, flanked by the embattled Minister Warner and the loyal Minister Moonilal, with national security bosses in the frame.

As she has done twice before, the PM has used the recent spike in murders, and the alleged Flying Squad revival, to take another shot at Warner. In June 2011, she halved Warner’s Ministry of Works and Transport, parcelling off the transport responsibilities to another minister. Then, in August 2011, the PM took the still-controversial highway project from Warner, and put it under an inter-ministerial committee stacked with her loyalists. Now, the PM has used her position as head of the National Security Council to send a message to the public and opposition politicians —“The buck stops here”. Maybe she can add the words, “I think”.

In this combined shot at Warner and crime, the PM will confront any thought of an “elite” unit battling pervasive crime. Before that, she must confront the fact that since the old Flying Squad was so maligned, how did this new Flying Squad get so close to take-off. Any attraction to some sort of special squad is rooted in our abuse of the word “elite”, and our penchant for enclaves, cliques, cartels, tribes, and carve-outs. Our version of elitism is not about excellence and best-in-class. It is about untouchables, and in the case of the Flying Squad, our disregard for growing evidence in the 1980s that behind the headlines of achievement, the Flying Squad was destroying the psyche of the Police Service. That Police Service should have destroyed the lucrative marijuana trade, and the early development of the transnational trade in cocaine and arms. Instead, rogue officers took root and stayed put, and so did the crime.

A 2011 report by the US Institute of Peace notes that one of two trends in the reporting of police corruption globally is that drug involvement is not mentioned before 1970. After 1970, drugs became the major driver of corruption. As it turned out, the 1987 Scott Drug Report killed the Flying Squad, finally bringing into full glare the conflicting reports of the squad’s success, and its deep involvement in criminal activity. In the 1980’s the “elite” title appended to the Flying Squad was just another cause for friction within the Police Service which was already short on opportunities for women, afflicted by the lack of transparency in promotion, and constantly affected by politics. But, the Police Service never recovered from the Flying Squad’s creation and the fallout from the Scott Drug Report, the service having to deal with the re-absorption of potentially tainted officers into the ranks, and the inevitable distrust which informed public perception.

It appeared out of place that serious allegations of police and judicial corruption would be at the core of a report on drug abuse but, that drug connection, identified in 1987, is still responsible for both the current crime problem, and the lack of serious political action.

It is therefore a major concern that the idea of any revival of the Flying Squad could actually make it past the national security gatekeepers. Nothing in the squad’s history, the track record of its proponents, and the public perception of the group, warranted more than Minister Warner’s polite note of thanks, and rejection. That approach would surely have been consistent with the UNC’s attitude towards the Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT), which for most of its own “elite” life operated without the legitimacy of law.

But, then again, even the Partnership has recalibrated its rhetoric on crime. The coalition’s 2010 manifesto plays up the idea of tackling the “structural problems that facilitate crime”, among them “alienation from the political process, and the lack of participation and consultation”. Now, the Minister of National Security threatens more jail time, more difficult bail conditions, and more guns and boots on the streets. But, what’s the value of more jail time if criminals are not arrested and charged, and when they are they are not successfully prosecuted?

What’s the value of no bail when the bandit factories embedded in most communities provide a steady supply of criminal replacements? What is the value of the promise of more police on the streets when officers lack the fundamentals of policing in 2013—mental and physical fitness, training, strategy, adequate insurance coverage, and appropriate technology and gear?

And, whatever the PM does, the fact is that she has to confront the political distrust already created. In her party’s 2010 manifesto, the PM promised, “My immediate goal will be to introduce greater transparency and accountability in government”. That has not happened, and it’s instructive that the most significant crime stories are ones which have brought the most negative publicity to the Partnership: the Reshmi and Financial Intelligence Unit appointments; Section 34; the choice of Minister Warner for national security; the Offshore Patrol Vessels termination; and, the resignations of the Canadian Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police just after Warner’s appointment.

The revival of the disgraced Flying Squad joins the list, and a good start is for the PM to ask Minister Warner, what were you thinking Jack?Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturerSomebody