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It’s all in the execution
At Thursday’s post-Cabinet meeting, Minister of National Security Jack Warner announced that $289 million would be allocated to several anti-crime initiatives, his first clear statement on an anti-crime strategy. The money will be spent on a range of initiatives that will increase the mobility of the police force, increase police manpower, implement new technologies and improve community policing and relationships.
These are all commendable goals, and no one would argue they are not needed to put a more effective spoke in the free-running wheels of crime. But Minister Warner must be careful to ensure that this big spend returns the results that he’s hoping for. Adding 5,000 Special Reserve Police (SRP) officers to the ranks of the service: $60 million.
Yes, there’s a need for more officers engaged in proactive policing, but the National Security Minister must ensure that such a large group of new officers are appropriately screened and trained for this weighty responsibility. The history of SRPs has not been exemplary and sounding a clear warning about the need for care before putting a loaded weapon into the hands of a part-time officer is absolutely not out of place.
It’s to be hoped that many of these SRPs will be employed in support capacities in the service, freeing fully-trained and experienced officers for more active work in the field, working cases and engaging in proactive policing. Stringent background checks and a review of an SRP officer’s performance should be mandatory and ongoing for this new effort at beefing up manpower in the service.
Police community groups, infrastructure and equipment: $5.1 million. Again, an excellent move, if an underfunded one. But if this is considered seed money to realise the potential for successful community level interventions by the police, there’s a real likelihood that private enterprise and Local Government bodies will join the effort and provide added support for projects with real promise.
Three hundred police vehicles: $60 million
By now, “we have no vehicles” should not be a part of a police officer’s response, so any effort to increase mobility in the service would seem to merit a reflexive endorsement. The National Security Minister has also insisted that this new fleet would usher in a new privilege for officers—being able to take police cars home. The minister’s plan for this initiative remains unclear, but it seems at odds with a police service that continues to protest that it’s short on vehicles.
Perhaps the minister sees some value in more police vehicles on the streets in whatever capacity, but a system that ensures that police vehicles remain focused on police work should accompany this new approach. Information technology improvements, upgrades to the E-999 service: $164.5 million. The single largest allocation of this cash infusion goes to fill the biggest hole in the Police Service.
Will this fund create a secure and centrally-accessible computerised database of crimes reported, outstanding warrants, identification information and other datasets that an officer would find useful in investigating crimes or researching a suspicious situation? Will this significant investment lead to a networked police service that puts critical information on the desk or in the vehicle of any officer requesting it using commonly available technologies?
Let’s hope so. For far too long, police work in Trinidad and Tobago has been locked away in near impenetrable silos of station logbooks and in file systems that are inaccessible without considerable effort. Data that police officers can’t access when they need it is as useless as information that was never gathered at all. Minister Warner is making a massive investment in the Police Service and it’s a spend that must be judicious, designed for impact and deliver results. Nothing less will be acceptable.
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