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 They face the same frustrations that the public do; poor record keeping, outdated processes, systems, policies and equipment, lack of accountability, pay and promotions issues and the inability to discipline poor performance from the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?