Friday, October 29, 2010

Effective police, a hopeless dream?

The Commissioner of Police was quoted in today’s newspapers as saying at a town meeting in Arima on Wednesday night; “ Whether it’s drinking and driving, whether it’s disobeying all rules of the road and is driving and if you see them taking bribes…..There is no room in our service for that….Lodge a formal complaint by writing it down and presenting it to the (Police) Complaints Unit. They will investigate any of your complaints…..”.

When the statement was made it caused a flurry of comment. Not as you might suppose, laudatory statements about the Commissioner’s commitment to ending alleged corruption in the Police Service. Quite the contrary, a random sample of comments ranged from, “poor fella, he tink he still in Canada”, “he expect the Police to investigate themselves? Wha?”, “he ent know that if you report a Police they does vicitimise yuh”. And these are just a few of the comments, I’m pretty sure there were lots more on the blogsphere, on message boards and in rumshops.

As much as we can empathise with our new Commish, the sad reality is it will take more than telling people to report complaints to the Complaints Unit to change the perception that you can actually go to the police for assistance. For far too long the Police Service in Trinidad and Tobago have enjoyed a less than savory reputation, fueled as it were by stories of bribes, lethargy, incompetence, the very real rising serious crime figures and the poor rate of convictions.

It is evident that the reform of the Police Service cannot be by PR alone and the Commish is going to have his work cut out for him. There are many factors that contribute to the issues and problems and there is no quick fix. However, there are many short and long term strategies that must be employed to ensure that the TnT Police Service be brought up to date in modern policing practices. The reality remains however that all parties must be committed to reform, that includes, politicians, the executive of the police service, the business community and the general public because it will take a change in regulations, laws and most of all, time to achieve.

It is disingenuous to say that ALL police persons are corrupt, that ALL police do not respond or are sour/bullies/truculent/inept and whatever other adjectives the population chooses to apply. There are in fact officers who are conscientious, hard working and actively dedicated to their jobs. They face the same frustrations that the public do; poor record keeping, outdated processes, systems, policies and equipment, lack of accountability, pay and promotions issues and the inability to discipline poor performance from the aforementioned problems. It is a perennial problem, what are the long-term objectives? How are we going to achieve them? What about recruitment practices, training, promotion by merit as opposed to seniority, proper equipment management etc.?

In the past twenty years there have been at least four Police Reform plans that were a result of extensive consultations and consultant man-hours. And yet every time there has been a piecemeal approach because it would appear that no one really wants to change anything.

The Police Union does not want the status quo to change; they speak about performance appraisals but what standards are to be employed? Policemen don’t want the system change, how else can you be promoted for just sitting in one spot for a long time without actually having to do anything? So what is the recourse? WE need to support the reform, whether it is to speak with one voice, to refuse to pay bribes, to report all crimes, to adhere to the road traffic laws, to support police officers who do speak out about the system, in fact become responsible. It’s not going to be easy but these things never are, progress will be incremental, perhaps we can be less critical of initiatives and more vocal about the real issues. We as taxpayers need to hold people accountable and ask, if we have paid for this, why hasn’t it been implemented?

The situation HAS to change or like the dinosaur, the decision will be taken away from us. The worse the worldwide perception of us is, the less likely investors will want to come here or tourists. Citizens will choose to live elsewhere if they can, businessmen will take their money elsewhere leading to cash and brain drains. In the end we will all suffer.

The days where we can continue to bumble along are gone, swept away by the increasing ability of people to make news instantaneous. You Tube, blogs, on-line news forums, blackberry messenger, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and cheap mobile phones have ensured that the global village shrinks more and more every day. It is harder to keep the seedy side of life hidden. Each of us has a responsibility, ask yourself Trinidad, how you are going to support our Police Service?

Monday, October 25, 2010


If you've been following this space you may have noticed that the posts have been few and far between this year. It's not because I didn't have anything to say, quite the contrary, there was too much to say, too many things to comment on against the backdrop of my "day job" and the boundaries of what could and could not be expressed. Mysterious enough for you? Some of you know my alter ego, the one that works for a living so you know what I'm referring to.

A lot of things have happened in the past ten months, things that turned the way I thought of myself and my circumstances on the side. All these questions about my beliefs, who I am and what is right. Philosophical questions but striking at the heart of a life long conviction that with life, there comes responsibility for the circumstances in which you live. A few years ago, a blogger called Angry African got me thinking again, and another blogger, aka Slacker fueled my muse and so I wrote. And then my ability to write without fear was swallowed by the every present concern that it what was said would adversely affect my other life.

Well, enough of that. This blog was going to be about the things that were of concern. A little rusty but here goes.

Crime - here in Trinidad we go on and on about how crime is so bad, we have Crime Watch, plans for crime etc. What it seems to me is that there is little attempt at solving the issues that create a situation where the criminals can flourish. You see, Crime is treated as though it is a nebulous entity, sort of like the forces that Agent 86 battled in Get Smart. It is not people who commit crimes, nope, it is CRIME who is on the loose. What utter stupidity. The criminal element is alive and well here, flourishing nicely thank you. They don't need any help getting their stuff done. No, it's us poor citizens at their mercy who have to be worried.

So why the constant burying our heads in the sand and the lack of acknowledgement that quite frankly, our policing sucks, the factors that allow the situation to prosper are well supported and of course, it takes forever to prosecute someone even if it does go to court. And this does not even start to address the social issues that create a platform for criminals to operate in. Newsflash, the Commissioner of Police cannot do it alone, he's not Batman and this is not Gotham City. Without a concerted effort by the whole machinery associated with active policing the prevention/detection/conviction rate will certainly not decrease. The whole system has to be overhauled but instead we will consult, write plans, flounder around making statements and promises but in the end, do we really want anything to change? Are we committed to reporting criminal activity? Are we serious about anything that means we have to be active participants instead of joining Facebook groups, signing the occasional petition or putting on our sneakers for the march in the sun before going off to whatever activity. Do we really understand that it is going to take a fundamental behaviour shift for us as a country? Are we ready for that?

And then there is the fact that we changed the political party in Government. But did we change the government? And why do we always feel that putting someone into power is the only thing we have to do? Sure it's a start but what about holding them accountable for our expectations? What about having realistic expectations? What about saying enough of the talking and more about the doing? More about the issues as less about the "picong". Remembering that no one is perfect but no one is all bad either. Every political party has its pros and cons, do not expect that they will not fail at some things, they will, they're human not Gods. But also remember that you have a duty as a citizen to hold them accountable; whether for perceived squandermania or lack of cohesive, implementable plans. Unless you have a dictator or tyrant you have a voice, use it. Don't just sit by going, is for the Government to do, they are not your parents so you will have to provide things for yourself too. The Government's job is to provide effective strategies, systems and policies to move a country forward. There is an expectation that they will provide adequate social services, access to health care, potable running water, electricity, roads, education, housing etc. However, there is a difference between a service and a hand-out. Know the difference, understand what is political talk and what is a sustainable development.

Lots of things to think about, so many subjects to choose from. Think, question, speak up, it's your responsibility.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Village living

Despite the prevailing conditions I found myself vacationing off the island for a few days. Wow, what a difference a little time away in a different place can make. You really appreciate what you have so much more!

For example, who needs running water everyday? That nice hot water gushing from the shower or tap, is so wasteful. No, no, I am so thankful to WASA for providing me with the opportunity to work my biceps and triceps, hamstrings etc while getting in a water saving bucket bath. Our lack of running water has ensured that multiple trips are made up and down the back stairs carrying buckets of water to flush the toilet, have a bath and wash some dishes thereby strengthening my muscles and saving on gym fees. But have no fear, I have been contributing to the economy other than the 25% tax deducted at source from my paycheck. Yessir, all those a take out meals that I've had to procure so that I don't have piles of dirty dishes to wash etc having certainly added up. Yep, thanks WASA, no water all the time sure has improved my life. Though I am wondering what the traffic for months was in aid of when you were upgrading the water lines to Diego Martin. We have even less water now than we did on the old system. Oh right, efficiency of course.

Then there's HiLo, everybody's favourite food store. Having trawled the aisles at Krogers I was amazed that anyone could sell such vegetables, fruit and other produce of such quality and at such a price! Oh yes Mr. HiLo, you have saved me so much money because I simply cannot bring myself to try the expensive spotty, underripe fruit, manky veg shrink wrapped into submission. It's working wonders for my diet and with the exercise, soon I'll be able to fit into all those clothes I bought twenty years ago. Conservation at its best.

Going shopping I found all those foreign service staff trying. All that Good morning/afternoon, are you finding everything you need, may I help you and how can we serve you today, oh so tiresome. Who needs all those questions and questions? What business of yours is it that I have a good day? What is wrong with you people? Don't they know when asked if you can vary the order the correct response is, "dat is how it does come, yuh want it or not", accompanied of course by a loud, "steupps".

Ah, finally back home, driving down the highway where the speed limit is a suggestion, none of this having to watch the speedometer all the time, or for that matter observe the traffic lights. Now that was getting so tiresome! And the newspapers. So damn boring! Not one murder, crime or scandal on the front page. Why would anyone want to read about policies and plans to alleviate poverty or smart policing? That crap is bor-ring.

I don't know why I leave Paradise at all, but you know, sometimes you just have to.