Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Police our main crime problem

Another murder accused has walked. The accused in this instance was charged with not one, but four murders. And he walked free. From media reports, the jury did not take more than an hour to arrive at a not guilty verdict.

They chose to believe the attorney for the accused when the witness simply said he was told by the police "who to point out'' in the identification parade. He also indicated that he was forced to sign a statement which was prepared by the police.

For years I have been pointing to the police as "the" major problem in dealing with the crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Yet their collective behaviour remains unchanged. Over the past few years we have had numerous reports coming from both ministers of national security and acting commissioners of police (CoP) to the effect that there are "rogue officers" in the ranks.

And despite these claims, no meaningful effort has been made to rid the ranks of such; it's a business-as-usual approach. In addition, we have had several incidents in the courts where members of the judiciary expressed shock upon learning of the type of behaviour engaged in by these "officers." One may recall the incident where a female was strip- searched at the side of the road in Valencia, while 15 armed officers stood watch, as traffic flowed.

I have been braying again and again for the need for members of this organisation to be held to higher standards, to no avail. They take my braying as a personal attack on their organisation.

The Police Service is the frontline organisation in dealing with crime. It is quite clear that they do not understand their function. No police service in a democratic society can function effectively without the support of the public. Policing today is much different than it was 20-30 years ago. Yet the majority of the senior men and the few women, those in khaki, have been with this organisation going on 40 years or better. The current Minister of National Security recognised this, when at a recent promotion ceremony, albeit for the Regiment, argued that he could not understand how "men were promoted the day before retirement." What he doesn't recognise is that such promotions are merely to ensure a generous "retirement package''.

The men and women in khaki entered the ranks in an era when police wore short pants, rode bicycles and walked around with a "bootoo", an extension of our colonial heritage. They rose through the ranks, like public servants, based on years of service. Their rise had absolutely nothing to do with ability, or self improvement through education, or even performance. A select few may have been sent on a few short courses here and there—again, based on seniority. These are now the decision-makers of this organisation. And it is clear to everyone, except them, that their decisions are disastrous. That is because their decisions are based on their youthful experience or inexperience as the case may be. I am reminded of the statement here that "generals fight the wars of their youth." These men are undoubtedly "fighting crime'' the way they did in the 1970s. It is why many make the call for the return to the days of "Burroughs''. Such approaches are unacceptable in 2013, where information rules.

Gaining the confidence of the public is the number one challenge facing the police service. First, police officers must come to terms with the fact that they are not "the law''. They must follow the law, as they expect the public to do. Putting on a siren and blue lights to run the red lights is illegal. Know that! It is impossible to treat with the public in a disrespectful manner then turn around and ask for the same public for support. It has been said again and again, "To whom much is given, much is expected''. This is not just about money. It's also about influence and authority. And respect!

Rudy Chato Paul, Sr