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Transforming the TTPS: When rights matter most
An area of growing concern to the public is that of the apparent absence of adequate human rights protection afforded to children, minors and women whilst in the custody of police officers. Whether or not some of these officers are professionally trained in constitutional and human rights law is another matter, but matters involving sexual assault, rape and deviant behaviour is a source of grave concern to the national, regional and international community as their citizens are also involved.
Currently, there are numerous police officers of varying ranks before the courts on these charges. One of them involves a human trafficking victim (a foreign minor), and the other, an orphaned child. Both of them were allegedly raped and traumatised.
Within the past year, police officers of varying ranks have used their positions of public trust and their position of power to sexually harass and assault minors. Some of them were apparently involved in human trafficking, as well as exploiting vulnerable teenagers whose parents have separated. Many times under the pretext of “looking out for you” or “covering your back”, sexual exploitation occurs. How does this type of deviant behaviour reconcile with the tenets of protecting and serving the public? The abuse of these vulnerable minors (local and foreign) and adults by some police officers is beyond human computation and corresponds with man’s inhumanity against man.
Transformation is practical
This brings me to the question: How effective can this transformational exercise in human rights protection be, when under the current watch of Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs police involvement in sexual assault and rapes have increased? Even his senior officers have acknowledged that there are ‘rogue elements’ in the Police Service. It is not enough to state that fact, but what is being done to protect the public from these predators.
What active role has the Commissioner of Police fostered in this regard? What redress mechanisms are available to those minors, children and women who have been sexually abused in police stations as well as in the custody of police officers away from the police station?
It is a fact that not only are police officers involved in these crimes, but newspaper reports show this deviant behaviour occurring across all spectrums of the society—among politicians, priests, pastors, soldiers and defence force officials. This type of behaviour runs contrary to the motto of the Police Service which projects professionalism, respect, integrity, dignity and excellence.
Prior to implementing its Transformation Initiative for the XXI century, the Police Service must have conducted an assessment exercise to identify the existing limitations and deficiencies that are impacting adversely on its public mandate. That mandate would no doubt have been impacted adversely by the image depicted by some officers involved in sex crimes and the flesh trade.
Therefore, such an internal exercise would no doubt entail its ability to inspire public confidence and a rejuvenated commitment to protect and serve. Despite an increase in its public affairs campaign, a very careful analysis of the Police Service over the past decade would demonstrate that there are five overarching areas that, combined, have profound implications for the effective functioning of the police and its ability to maintain safety and security. Some of these areas include culture, corruption and human rights, internal and external accountability, leadership, management and professional development.
The pattern and high incidence of these sex crimes committed by police officers in Trinidad and Tobago over recent years has sparked profound concern at the local, national and international levels. Current trends in these sex crimes reflect deep-rooted social problems and a lack of social cohesion. This pattern of conduct widens the general public distrust of the police, and incidences of police corruption have created an uneasy distance between the police and citizens.
Consequently, this hinders investigative efforts as many persons are afraid or unwilling to come forward as witnesses, and a majority of serious crimes remain unsolved or unreported. As can be observed, the dominant culture of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) is incongruent with that of a modern day Police Service. Its stated values, “To Protect and Serve” do not represent the dominant culture of the TTPS, nor how the public perceive the police.
The dominant culture of TTPS is that of command and control. Furthermore, this aspect is severely limiting its effectiveness and its implications run deep. It promotes insularity, thus serving to distance the police from communities. Experience will show that it also serves as a barrier to effective communication across the Police Service. It is this attitude of control and power granted by the State and left unchecked that allow some of them to take advantage of minors, children and females. It is high time that remedial measures be taken to protect our children and even those who come from abroad. They are all part of the web of humanity.
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