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Gibbs in the eye of the storm
It may well be that the writing is on the wall for Canadian Dwayne Gibbs, the nation’s foreign-born Commissioner of Police. In attempting to develop and transform the Police Service for the 21st century, Commissioner Gibbs continues to encounter a barrage of adverse criticisms from politicians, those within his organisation, and an uneasy and disenchanted public.
Notwithstanding the police transformation initiative, it does appear that the more immediate concerns for the People’s Partnership (PP) Government and the public are the rising homicides on a daily basis. Trinidad and Tobago has been plagued with gang activity and drug trafficking, and the situation has overwhelmed this nation’s police force. We may have now passed the 230 mark, with the continuing demonstration of illegal firepower all over the country.
Therefore, in light of the Government and public’s concerns, it may be prudent to ask, to what extent has the commissioner been successful in his police reforms for approximately two years? And how effective has this transformation impacted on community policing and the illegal drugs and guns trade?
How successful has he been with regard to issues of police integrity: the susceptibility of police officers to corruption, the level of personal accountability for problematic behaviours and their attitudes toward organisational policies that are intended to promote integrity?
Again, it must be borne in mind that the commissioner has had to his benefit, the Police Reform Act of 2006. This act was designed to address many of the obstacles that hindered the agency’s ability to move forward and respond to the change in the policing environment. One key element of the act was granting the commissioner greater authority over personnel matters.
Caught in the political lagoon
Gibbs assumed the reins of commissioner in an ill-disciplined, lawless and carefree society, with an unbridled passion for recklessness. An analysis of the treatment meted out to Gibbs, from the state of emergency to his role and investigations of public officials, may suggest that he has either sought to play a rather passive role or is simply afraid to touch the political directorate who has “given him a food to eat.”
However, to be brutally honest, Commissioner Gibbs is not to be blamed for the brazen display of gunslingers on the open plains of “Hazard County.” As a nation, we have nurtured, petted, pampered, fostered, facilitated and continue to tolerate this type of behaviour.
The situation has spiralled out of control, with increasing fear on every side. Had we adopted a firm position against guns and drugs during the early 70s, the situation may have been quite different. It maybe that the nation has reached the medical term of “end-stage renal failure” in its fight against crime, drugs and guns. Gibbs’ predicament becomes more acute when one considers the political gymnastics he has had to endure.
Another approach to consider
Despite these obstacles facing Gibbs, there must have been some areas of transformation. Certainly, the PP Government’s vision is for a free, fair and responsible society. However, the engine of that vision must entail a radical shift in power and control from the Government back to people and communities. Policing reform is critical. It must be pointed out that the apparent increase in interference by the Government in recent years has changed the focus of the police.
In the process, they may also have become distanced from the public they serve. Crime is still too high, as pointed out by President Max Richards recently. Therefore, to prevent crime and disorder, we need to once again reform policing in the country, restoring once more the connection between the police and the people.
To reduce crime, policing relies not just on the consent of the people but their active co-operation. Importantly, the bond between the police and the people needs to strengthen appreciably. It is quite possible that the police in the past years may have been encouraged to focus on the issues that national politicians have told them are important, rather than the concerns of their local communities. Had this relationship been developed, the reliability of intelligence given by these communities would have put a serious damper on criminal activities.
Together with the national community, Gibbs’ agenda should make the police more accountable, accessible and transparent to the public, and therefore make our communities safer. Gibbs should also consider the role of a new national crime agency to lead the fight against organised crime, protect our borders and provide services best delivered at a national level. Gibbs should also want to ensure that the linkages of regional and international police co-operation, which are key ingredients in the fight against organised crime, are not hindered.
Finally, whatever time Commissioner Gibbs has left on his contract should also be devoted to overseeing the implementation of an active counter-corruption and border security task force. Staffed with truly dedicated and committed officers, this entity would assist in the fight against transnational organised crimes. This may prove to be a project worth remembering when he does leave this country.
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