Dear Commissioner Williams: After listening to ASP Joanne Archie on the CNC3 news last Friday night talking about a reduction in crime in 2012, I’m spending my weekly 950 words on a futile letter you probably won’t read, instead of opening my yearly can of Carnival anti-history whupass. It’s a desperation tactic—this “open letter” business—but that’s where we live.
The news reported that ASP Archie had no statistics to support her claims. I suspect those statistics do not, and could not, exist, because crime is worse than ever. The ASP is probably taking false comfort from the relaxation of the intense scrutiny your predecessor suffered. The absence of the PSC, Police Social and Welfare Association, and other unfortunates in the media day in, day out, attacking the commissioner, has been interpreted by the TTPS as a sign they’re doing something right.
If the statistics did show a decline, it’s a decline in reported crimes. This is because many people have given up and don’t even bother to report crimes any more. This is as true of small quality-of-life infractions as it is of theft and assault. If it weren’t for insurance or legal requirements, reports might cease entirely. This has everything to do with the police dysfunctionality, and nothing to do with less crime.
Recall the woman who’d been assaulted, who went to the police station, naked, to be told by a cop she was in the wrong station, and chased away. Is that cop now, after being fired, prosecuted, and sued, wiping windshields for a living? Or was he “transferred” and is, as you (don’t) read this, laughing while watching movies (like The Accused and Deliverance) in the back room of whatever police station he now infests?
This incident is emblematic of the relationship between the police service and the public. The cops the public meets as they enter a police station are often apathetic, lazy and confident of no consequences for their dereliction of duty. This isn’t to say all of them. I’ve dealt with a few policemen and one police station this last year and found some conscientious officers. These, however, are a small minority, and not the ones who create your public image.
You might remember that this wasn’t always so. On February 1, 1998, a daily newspaper’s front page carried the headline: “T&T Big Up Police.” The report revealed that public confidence in the police had risen sharply. The following year the murder rate dropped to an all-time low. Then the PNM came in a couple of years later, and, well, Sin City followed.
A lot of things contributed to this, like the PNM’s handing millions to gangsters, making them into a kind of militia, and using crime to keep their opponents off balance. Recall the kidnapping epidemic, which appeared to target one, uhm, group, for which collective responsibility belongs to many of the odious little Boysie Prevatts-in-training now in Opposition. But I digress.
So the gangsters won’t go gently. But there are measures which could have an effect whose size and rapidity would astonish you. You must know about New York in the 80s when crime was as bad or worse than here and now. That problem was solved when cops started aggressively policing small crime (public indecency, quality of life, obscene language) and the big crime shrank.
It could work here—you have little to lose by trying. But success requires one thing: cops’ willingness to actually work and not sit in the station all day listening to i95.5 and watching porn (identical content in different formats). As I wrote in my equally futile letter to the Attorney General last week, there’s a simple way to ensure an almost immediate improvement in the quality of police-public interaction: install cameras at the point of contact areas, where policemen meet the public.
Or allow citizens to record their interactions with the police. Then compile statistics from that, or just put it on YouTube.
But this also assumes that you (the TTPS, the Government) are interested in stopping crime and getting rid of the criminals in uniform. I’ve heard it persuasively argued that some, uhm, groups, actually do not want crime stopped since high crime keeps the population in constant trauma. This makes the populace less concerned with the government incompetence and state-sponsored thievery on a mind-boggling scale.
In this the PNM and PP are identical, but there’s more to it. The rapid increase in crime since 2000 contained an element of the fascist sickness known as PNM nationalism which spread virally through talk radio. (It’s sometimes called malignant narcissism.) The virus paralysed the police service.
Add a byzantine process to hire a commissioner, and boom: a TTPS chasing its own tail, and runaway crime. Orwell would be impressed. Ok, spinning a little off orbit here, though it only sounds weird if you’re not familiar with Frantz Fanon and Eric Williams.
Neither is the TTPS looking the other way as crime flourishes, as far-fetched as it sounds. Such deviance is what psychologist Philip Zimbardo labels highly “situational”: people take the route of least resistance because they’re pliable like that. It explains why the police are so ambivalent about crime despite the fact that they, too, suffer. Fortunately, it’s easy to cure. Once consequences start to emerge for deviance, much of it disappears.
The key is consequences. The question is: are you just coasting till your retirement or are you up to the job? The country waits breathlessly.