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Gary deserves a fair chance

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My first encounter with “the law” involved trying to find a parking space in downtown Port-of-Spain. It was during the chaotic lunchtime rush when I came across a spot that was VERY close to a corner. Spying a lone police officer nearby, I asked him if it was safe to leave my car there. To this day I remember his response; he said, “Yuh could take a chance!” Thinking that perhaps he misunderstood my question, I asked again—mentioning that I was concerned about having my vehicle towed. His answer was the same but, to alleviate my fears, added that the “wrecker” wasn’t out on the road that day. I was aghast! Here was this symbol of authority, this enforcer of the law, encouraging me to break it. Perhaps it was a trivial matter that wasn’t worth a constable’s time. Then again, nowadays we citizens have learnt not to expect too much from any of them and, in turn, they receive little respect from us.

After the criminal elements, the police service is perhaps the most despised group of people in Trinidad and Tobago. As if their performance in solving and preventing crimes wasn’t already abysmal, recently there have been numerous media reports that have highlighted a complete lack of professionalism. If officers weren’t getting caught taking bribes or abusing prisoners, their personal lives and dalliances ended up becoming very public embarrassments, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Unfortunately, these shortcomings reflect poorly on the entire service, making it hard to believe that it’s only a few bad apples that are spoiling the bunch. With a reputation like that, it’s a wonder why anyone would want to join the police service, or—worse yet—to become its Commissioner. Well, it took over six years but the Government finally selected someone who was actually eager to have the job.

I would like to join the rest of the country in congratulating Gary Griffith on his recent appointment as CoP. And, if nobody else has, I would like to be the first to offer him my sympathy. The task that lies before this soldier-turned-politician-turned-top cop will undoubtedly be a stressful one. With the war on crime all but lost, perhaps things will be different under his leadership, as it takes a soldier to wage a war. But that very premise means he faces the expectation to produce immediate results. After all, “Captain” Griffith has repeatedly touted his military service as a valuable skill set in coming up with effective strategies. And he also possesses administrative experience from his stint as minister of national security under the previous administration. This new position places him closer to where the action is, giving him the opportunity to walk the walk after talking the talk. But leadership is only part of the problem; the larger challenge is dealing with the cirrhosis that permeates the entire body of the TTPS.

Acquiring the latest technology and formulating new crime-fighting plans isn’t the answer; that’s been the modus operandi for too long with little to show for it. If there’s to be meaningful change it must start from the bottom—with the recruits. But beyond a more rigorous screening process and a better training regime, joining the police service must mean more than just “getting a wuk”. If we expect professionalism from aspiring and existing members, the operating standard of the service must be elevated. That doesn’t mean simply augmenting the motto to include the words “with pride”; that was pointless. Start by increasing their wages and adding benefits so as to lessen the susceptibility to bribery. House them in proper, purpose-built police stations with modern amenities instead of appropriated aged buildings. And provide adequate mental health counselling, not only to help them deal with the pressures of the job but to monitor for the emergence of troubling signs from individual officers.

These are just a few common sense suggestions. And I suspect they have been made before in the plethora of studies conducted by foreign and local experts alike. Coming up with constructive ideas has never been an issue; the problem lies with implementation. Hopefully, this is where Captain Griffith will differ from his predecessors. So, yes, the country is taking a chance on Gary. But he deserves to be given a fair chance from us as well.

Ryan Hadeed


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