Challenges posed to the T&T Police Service by surging crime, and deficiencies in leadership and organisation affecting the service remain at or near the top of the national agenda of concerns. It was the turn of the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee last week, however, to hear tales of woe about law enforcement at the local government level.
That policing is or should be decentralised, in keeping with the needs and mandates of regions and municipalities, tends to be overlooked in the single focus on law enforcement in combat mode against crime everywhere. But the JSC, with Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray, a former San Fernando mayor, at the table, gained an earful about the hands-on difficulties of maintaining law and order and livability with resources inferior to those at the national level.
From a senior officer at the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation, the JSC learned that the mini-force under his command is far from equal to its assigned tasks. These include tasks of policing “hot spot” areas and providing guard escort for public utility teams which, in high-crime areas, need to be assured of adequate protection.
The local area police units are both under-supplied with protective gear, and seriously lacking in numbers of officers. Tunapuna, La Horquetta, Maloney, Arouca and Diego Martin were cited as seriously crime-troubled areas where regional corporation law enforcement falls far short of what is needed.
The JSC’s encounter with local-authority law enforcers occasioned a revisit to a long and sore handicap applicable to the outfit with the national mandate to “protect and serve with pride”. Since the local-area units, for want of resources, are not always able to respond in their own areas, they must depend on the TTPS for critical back-up and support.
It’s in this regard, as the JSC heard, that policing at every level falls down. For the national Police Service cannot always be relied upon to respond at times and in places where the local units, for lacking in numbers, call for help.
Staff shortages continue to bedevil the TTPS, despite serial initiatives at recruitment and training of officers. The JSC also heard that local-area units cannot always depend on the TTPS for back-up support, because the national force is also short-staffed.
Sheer inadequacy of numbers of officers, ineffectual management of human resources and equipment, including vehicles, hardly amount, however, to a new condition.
The JSC, like the rest of the country, must be urgently querying exactly what is being done, on a consistent and measurable basis, to bring police numbers—at national and local levels—up to the required strength. Evidently, whatever is being done to boost the ranks of law enforcers, and to deploy them efficiently and effectively continues to fall painfully short of meeting both national and local need.