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Top CoP problem

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

After years of messing around, it looks like this country is still very far away from the appointment of a Commissioner of Police, with what is now widely recognised as a flawed appointment system, and perhaps, more importantly, a total absence of any suitable and acceptable candidates. We are clearly still years away from any appointment, with the likelihood of a period of prolonged litigation ahead.

I would like to suggest that not only is this not surprising, but it is, in fact, a foregone conclusion, the root of the problem being the current system of recruitment into the Police Service.

Policing today is a complex business and the top management of a police department require not only excellent management but also substantial technical competence, good HR, team building and communication skills. Recognising this, organisations all over the world, whether in the military, the public sector or private business, recruit at two levels: they bring in people at the lowest level, but they also hire bright young people, often university trained, at the middle level, who will be trained to develop into the future management of the organisation.

As I understand it, in the bad old colonial days the T&T Police Force did, in fact, recruit not only constables with their four O’levels but also officer trainees. Soon after Independence, however, this practice was deemed to be elitist, and so for the last 50 or so years, only constables have been recruited, at the lowest level.

With the passage of years, the chickens have come home to roost, with the top ranks of the Police Service now occupied by the longest standing constables, who undeniably do not possess the management skills required to run a large, complex organisation like a modern police service.

The situation has been made worse in recent years, with the practice having been developed of rewarding these long-standing constables with an appointment to the post of Commissioner of Police just before they are about to retire so that they can go home with a commissioner level pension. How often have we seen appointments where the incumbent is two years away from their retirement date, but with 18 months accumulated leave ‘inside’? After six months they are gone, to make room for the next one.

If we want to have effective management of our Police Service in the future, I would suggest an immediate return to the system of recruiting officer trainees into the Police Service, with a view to having a selection of good candidates for the commissioner position in say about ten years’ time.

In the short term, there is no choice but to recruit a management team from abroad, charged with the responsibility of not only restoring discipline and morale, and introducing modern policing techniques and technology, but also training and developing their replacements, such that they can depart seamlessly at the end of their contracts.

At the same time, it is vitally important that this time stringent controls are put in place to ensure that the existing clique of self-interested, turf defending senior officers in our Police Service are not allowed to run them out like they did to the Canadians.

While I share the feeling of many people in this country that we do not need foreigners to tell us what to do, I think that in the sad case of the Police Service, we perhaps need to go back, before we can go forward again.

Gary N. Voss,


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