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Sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Ronald Marshall believes that citizens of T&T have become cynical; for some aspects of the PNM’s ten-point crime plan to work, the mindset of the society must first be re-engineered, he said. Marshall spoke with the Sunday Guardian to analyse whether the ten-point crime plan put forward by the opposition party will work.
PNM plan 1(a): Immediately abolish existing laws and rules governing the search for, evaluation of and appointment of a Commissioner of Police.
Marshall: “I agree with this one. We don’t have specificity. I am in 100 per cent agreement that the existing rules and laws are demoralising, and it doesn’t send a good message; it says the authorities are not serious about crime fighting. The Commissioner holds a particular message in people’s mind, and if an officer is not assured of tenure, then the criminal element capitalises on this uncertainty. Don’t for one second think the criminal mind is a stupid one.”
(b): Simplify the process so as to make an appointment after evaluation by the Police Service Commission, which could legislatively be enlarged to include the chairpersons of some other appropriate independent service commission.
Marshall: “I agree also. It makes the general public wonder what specifically you are searching for. A super cop with all these skills? Point is, if you go back into the data, you will be able to see if you have a cop with all they are asking for. The kinds of things they are asking for and the range, leads me to wonder if someone who has those skills will take on the role of Commissioner, or will they want to go elsewhere?”
PNM plan 1(c): That this action be immediate and urgent so as to allow an appointment of a suitable national who will have proper tenure and who must set about to bring effective management of the human resource and other resources made available to the Police Service. This will boost the morale of the men and women assigned to policing and begin to restore the public’s confidence in the Police Service and its prospects of success.
Marshall: “I agree, but I don't understand, these things are emergent. We need creative ideas and bold initiatives because the situation is bad. I don’t know that the Government is prepared to take bold steps to arrest crime.”
PNM plan 2(a): Let experts do an immediate manpower audit on the Police Service to determine what is available and what is required, and how staff should be deployed to become more effective and sustainable.
Marshall: “The scope here needs to be understood. What criteria or menu of resources are needed at this point in time? It’s better to ask this. No criminal thought twice this year about killing. So the criminal is emboldened and is capitalising on the rate of detection. So the manpower resources, the scope must be manageable. We can't talk about six weeks (time frame for audits and plans), we need this in two weeks.”
(b): Eliminate the morale-sapping promotion issues in the service to motivate the personnel.
Marshall: “This is long term.”
(c): Acknowledge the need for effective information-gathering as the basis for crime detection, that is, the requirement for a unit such as Sautt.
Marshall: “I agree, but Sautt needs to be sorted out. When we talk about Sautt and collective data, all these years it has been in existence, what is the organisational direction? I think for the most part the public thinks it’s a clandestine operation. Now you see, Sautt has information, but who is acting on it, and how has this information impacted on the rate of detection? If you have sophisticated organisations then clearly you would have been onto perpetrators of crimes, because over time you'd know the perpetrators and where they're likely to attack. Where is the next murder, for instance?”
PNM plan 3: Activate the laws, as provided, to establish municipal police units in all 14 local government bodies and the Tobago House of Assembly. We suggest 100 people per corporation for increased local patrolling and information gathering. This will immediately add 1,500 people to the service of crime-fighting and security. The legal framework is largely already in place.
Marshall: “This is a good idea, but it needs bold initiative. We are running against the culture and history of local government bodies, running against this power. Will they have the resources, will they be given the information? Will funding be drawn from central government? This needs to be fleshed out quickly because this, as it stands, is lacking in terms of how will that reduce crime. This perception that more officers and therefore their visibility will reduce crime, this is not so. While it may be good, at the same time it needs to be worked out how access to this information and communities (policing and getting to know a community) will aid in understanding and prediction.”
PNM plan 4: Amend the existing legislation to give greater powers to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), including the right to independently prosecute offending police officers.
Marshall: “I agree, but there are a number of critical questions: Will the PCA be a quasi-authority? Will it have powers of arrest? Interdiction? Information/intelligence? In so doing, we need to be careful that people who are profiled as criminals are actually criminals. Who will really be in charge, and which set of markers will determine which set of people are to be monitored, interviewed or interdicted?”
PNM plan 5: The immediate establishment of a Standing Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Crime Suppression and Security to review, oversee, monitor and report on the policies, programmes and operational effectiveness of the human, financial and other resources deployed in the security systems for crime fighting, in particular.
PNM plan 6: Amendment of existing law for the creation of a specific offence of “witness tampering” identified as a crime with the severest penalties attached.
Marshall: “This has frustrated law enforcement because we haven't been able to put anything in place to deal with it. The same person who is taking the information may know someone. I think crime in T&T has reached a stage whereby the demarcation line between what is and what is not a crime is being convoluted in cultural practices. The ‘who know who,’ it’s too mixed up. People who are supposed to have private information are prepared to share it. We can’t immediately address this one. The ability to adapt the new law is the major challenge.”
PNM plan 7: Amendment of the law to create a specific offence related to the unlawful eviction of person/s from premises by way of threats, force or any menacing act.
PNM plan 8 (a): That the Government commit to return to a proper sustained implementation of the Urban Renewal Plan for East Port-of-Spain, including reference to the recommendations of the Ryan Report. This programme will go a significant way in dealing with housing improvement and job creation issues as it addresses the quality of life challenges faced by residents.
(b): That the Government commit not to downgrade the City of Port-of-Spain since the economic health, growth and well-being of the city provides the best opportunity for sustainable jobs and other opportunities for residents of the inner city and the rest of the nation.
Marshall: “This is tied into social problems of those on the lower end of the income scale; the poor. Now if you do that (proposal), you will prevent the next generation of criminals from emerging, but current criminals many not be put back in the hole.
“I agree that Government should commit not to downgrade Port-of-Spain. That there should be nothing that would remove the importance of the city centre and amenities. Law-abiding citizens should not be the victims of new policies to address criminals because you now run into the new problem it creates: this then admits there is weakness in effectively dealing with the criminal element.”
PNM plan 9: We identified our confusion over the two divergent positions of the Government on the anti-gang legislation and agreed to look at any new proposals which the Government may want to advance at this time.
Marshall: “Both Government and Opposition need to come together and deal with the anti-gang legislation, and work out the thing together! They can't talk about partisan politics, the nation voted for Government and Opposition party. They both have responsibility to country and to be bickering in Parliament… no. More focus needed on solving. Asking questions like what form must the anti-gang legislation take to reduce crime? And if there are different views, don't throw out the baby with bath water. You can still have legislation.”
PNM plan 10: We strongly recommend the acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final Court of Appeal.
Marshall: “That is a long way in coming. (With) the culture in our country, especially in light of allegations of corruption and reports of people manipulating the system, you'd be weary of having a court of appeal within this jurisdiction; even though we talk about cultural sovereignty, they are removed from the various contestations. Therefore, people would have no interest to the extent that they might have.
“I am not casting any aspersions on the ability of our legal officers or the justice system, but I am saying the culture in which we have, increasingly, is one where there is a tendency toward interference within institutions. Family institutions, religious institutions and so on. In people’s minds then, there is no difference. This is a peacemeal effort done over time, so that the cultural acceptance and confidence in our institutions is increased.”