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Police Service needs help urgently

 We are in serious trouble. And, it is not because in this small country of ours three people are murdered every day—on the streets and in their homes—and no one is being arrested. 

The real reason we are in serious trouble is that the Government we elected to run this country and to keep us safe is apparently at a complete loss as to how to protect us. No amount of sophistry, “gambage” and “robber talk” from our Minister of National Security and grand-standing and fulminations from our Prime Minister, can hide the fact that the Police Service is at its wits end and is unable to protect us. 

Since December 2010, as was widely reported in the press, the Prime Minister announced to the country, at a hamper distribution exercise at her constituency office, that she had a crime plan. The then commissioner of police promptly and diplomatically, when asked what he thought of the Prime Minister’s announcement, said on national TV, that her “crime plan” fits in with his “crime plan”. Now, three years later, three ministers of national security later, a new Commissioner of Police (Acting) and 1,160) people murdered (20 so far in 2014, 407 in 2013, 379 in 2012 and 354 in 2011), we are once more being told of a crime plan. This time the “plan” has two parts. The first is the launch of the “Rapid Response Unit” and a call to citizens to dial 999 or 911 if they or their neighbours are victims of crime or if one is a witness to suspicious activity! The other part of this latest crime plan is a new get tough approach by the Prime Minister. She has said that: 

“I have made clear to each member of the NSC (National Security Council) that they would be held personally accountable for any further failure to keep the peace and protect our citizens. And so once in charge, the respective arms of the respective security services, they must perform. No shades of grey, no excuses, no apologies. The Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago are demanding results now.” Yes we are, PM but under our existing Constitution neither you nor your Cabinet nor the President can take any action whatsoever against the officer responsible for protecting and serving us—the Commissioner of Police. And, as a Senior Counsel, you know this as fact—notwithstanding all the wild statements from your Minister of National Security.

The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the Police Service desperately needs help, support, and guidance and most important it needs to be held directly and clearly accountable for its actions and failures. The arrangements that you have spoken about do nothing to solve this fundamental problem. It is time that you take a bold step for change.

If I were in your shoes, I would take immediate steps to have the Constitution amended to provide for new arrangements for the management of the Police Service. The service should be overseen by an independent body, established under the Constitution, and structured to provide management expertise and guidance and to reflect the bi-partisan views of all of the elected representatives of the people—however these views are secured.

This independent body, whether or not it is the current Police Service Commission suitably empowered, should be given the constitutional power to convey to the office of the Commissioner of Police, the policing policy directions of the Government and people of the country. This independent body must have real teeth and must have the power to take all appropriate actions to ensure that the Police Service performs as the Government and people expect—while at the same time ensuring that there is absolutely no political interference in the day to day operations of the Police Service. This independent “Police Management Commission”, reporting to the President, would be accountable for the overall direction of the Police Service through a commissioner of police—appointed by and accountable to it. 

This would be the start of real change in policing but as we are all aware, the Police Service is only one element of a broad range of initiatives required for effective and lasting  crime prevention and control.  

Ashton S Brereton

Champs Fleurs

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