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Ensure returns on police fleet investment
Since taking office as Minister of National Security, Jack Warner has set his sights on making improvements to the assets and infrastructure of the police service. This welcome focus on the support structure of policing in Trinidad and Tobago, a commitment by the Government as outlined in the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) for 2013-2015, will spend $70 million on improving the vehicles to be used by police officers.
That sum, however, must be subject to systems of review and accountability to the public to ensure that citizens see valuable returns from this investment in the mobility and reach of police officers while on duty. If this budget allocation ends, once and for all, the ongoing issues with the availability of police vehicles when officers are called on to offer service when the public is imperilled, then it will, ultimately, be money well spent.
But Minister Warner must be aware of the rate of attrition of new vehicles and the sluggish pace of repair, refurbishment and return to service of vehicles assigned to officers. In May, former Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Ewatski was lamenting the loss of 25 percent of his fleet, noting that out of 1,200 vehicles owned by the Police Service, 300 were out of service.
Mr Ewatski was, during that time, taking a hard line with his troops on the care of police vehicles, promising to hold them accountable for damage caused to the fleet through neglect of the type of thing that any car owner would take care of routinely, checking fluid levels and reporting apparent problems with the cars that would signal mechanical problems that needed to be addressed early.
“If officers do not fulfil these basic responsibilities with the public assets given to them,” Mr Ewatski promised, “they would be held accountable.” At least one of the problems with the fleet that galled Mr Ewatski, the presence of costly rental vehicles in the police fleet, is likely to be addressed by this upgrade.
The minister should also consider his former deputy commissioner’s other concern, the need to encourage a culture of care and responsibility for the expensive equipment assigned to officers through a fair system of accountability for such care.
The National Security Minister has promised sedans, SUVs, dog vans ambulances and trucks described as “fit for purpose,” custom built and ruggedised for police use, vehicles meant for patrols and emergency response— the cornerstones of an long hoped for programme of community policing.
An even more compelling aspect of the improvements Minister Warner has planned for the Police Service is an effort at technology upgrades that will network police headquarters, create a wide area network (WAN) connecting police stations and the creation of a centralised and accessible database system of the information gathered in the course of daily police work. Making such data available to officers on duty will fundamentally change the way that police operate in the field.
Capturing finger prints and palm prints electronically will, rather superficially, suggest rapid technology advances, but the real revolution will come when an invisible data backbone enables any officer, anywhere, can access information about suspects, cases and potential perpetrators with a few digital inputs.
The cost of this new system, at $50 million, is a bargain compared to the cost of putting 200 new vehicles on the road and has the potential to bring much greater dividends to officers committed to prosecuting the law.
Marrying the two initiatives would be nothing less than a revolution in policing capacity and the Ministry of National Security should make the introduction of these initiatives and proper training to make them work effectively, a cornerstone of its efforts against crime over the next three years of the PSIP plan.
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