Thursday, 15 December 2016

Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Reform. Is It Possible?

The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and the criminal element seem to be inextricably intertwined in a relationship that can best be described as symbiotic.

In the older (better) days we used to joke that the only difference between  police and ‘Tief’ was the uniform.

Nowadays, we can’t even make that distinction as bandits, hit men,common petty thieves, bribe takers and con men are in possession of real police uniforms and armed with real police guns and badges that most times are either rented or borrowed from police officers.

And on another level, many police officers are endowed with mentalities and attitudes no different to those of the very criminals they are sworn to protect us from.

So even when police officers are not being impersonated by criminals, the horrendous face of criminality is well represented in the persona of the average legitimately employed Trinidad and Tobago Police Officer.

We have repeatedly described the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service as a dysfunctional, schizophrenic organization.

We are not clinical psychologists so our use of the word “schizophrenic” is from a purely layman’s perspective and understanding of actions that we are accustomed to hearing doctors describe as “schizophrenic” in relation to human behaviour.

How else do we label an organization that seems to be split into two conflicting institutional personalities?

The first, its ‘raison de’etre’, its primary mandate and commitment are peacekeeping and maintaining law and order in the many communities it serves while fighting crime in all its ugly facets.

The second, a dominant, stronger, antagonistic law breaking counterpart that is deeply involved in activities that span the full spectrum of criminality that the first is battling against.

The two personalities seem to be constantly at war with each other in a Jekyll and Hyde ‘good vs evil’ scenario in which professionalism and moral integrity have lost considerable ground to corruption, incompetence and brutal thuggery.

The ordinary man in the street views the Police Service as the largest organized criminal enterprise in the country, corrupt to the core and beyond redemption.

For those reasons we view proposals to inject more money into the Police Service as simply casting pearls before swine, spending good money on an exercise in futility.

Pumping more money and resources into that dysfunctional entity will do nothing to transform it from the national embarrassment and object of public ridicule, resentment and distrust it has been reduced to.

Increasing police visibility will not improve efficiency or poor work ethic, two entrenched traits that contribute directly to the spread of criminal activity. All it would do is put more of the same non performing officers in the public eye.

Very little can be done to restore the confidence of the Public, long grown weary and suspicious of most law enforcement officers.

Trust between individuals in any normal relationship, business or personal, is difficult to restore once lost, particularly in a situation where that betrayal of trust has resulted in innocent persons being roughed up, assaulted, locked up, framed and incarcerated, victimized, brutalized and maimed, many losing their freedom to police wickedness, lies and perjury, and many others even losing their lives to police batons and bullets.

Worse yet, where even as efforts are being made to restore that trust, ongoing incidents of misbehaviour and brutality continue to generate even more distrust and resentment.

People simply do not trust the police and will not cooperate with the Police in the fight against crime. End of story.

Trying to build capacity within the Service by new training is akin to trying to teach old dogs new tricks and will improve neither professionalism nor performance. Likewise, paying policemen more money, no matter how much, will not stop the bribe taking and slackness within the institution.

Feeding chickens to dogs who are accustomed to sucking eggs won’t stop the egg sucking habit. They will simply consume both. The culture of corruption is too widespread, too rampant and too entrenched to be rooted out or reversed. .

If we are to pump more resources into the police service it must be to attract a different caliber of citizen, better educated, fully literate, not just functionally so, from the upper, middle and lower middle classes, and selectively from the lower class who possess the intelligence, maturity, good judgment and integrity that are so glaringly lacking in the majority of today's police officers.

Brawn must be replaced by brain, ignorance by education and arrogance by humility.

We need police officers who recognize and understand the simple difference between right and wrong and who are prepared to stand and be counted on the side of right, ready to condemn wrong and those who do wrong - and to do so always, not just selectively when it suits their bribe taking or otherwise corrupt purposes.

We need individuals of a particular mindset who will properly appreciate the difference between service and servitude, that one does not mean the other, and who therefore will readily embrace the concept of the Police being Servants of the Public, something that most police officers simply do not understand, hence their refusal to properly serve the people.

But we will only achieve that when we stop the influx of the guttersnipes who traditionally have dominated the Service with their 'bad john' ghetto mentality and psychological ghetto baggage who are not genuinely interested in a respectable and rewarding career in the Police Service but are merely “looking for ah wuk", not averse to using the Service as a means to an ignoble end with no compunction about compromising their integrity and sullying its reputation for a hundred dollar bribe and a box of KFC or a potato roti.

What we need therefore, is an entirely new Police Service or at least one that has been completely overhauled and sanitized, with the baby being thrown out with the dirty bathwater.

At least ninety percent of the existing Service’s membership, all those lazy, non-performing, corrupt officers who have found sanctuary within the Service, and who have polluted it virtually beyond salvage, must be sent packing, and in recruiting replacements there should be no more scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The new Service must no longer be a repository of brute force, ignorance, arrogance and incompetence but a professional law enforcement/crime fighting agency that we can all depend on and be proud of.