Moments before being shot dead with his own gun on Wednesday night, prison officer Robert Seecharan was seen beating, kicking and dragging three females outside a convenience store along the Penal
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Police force under greater scrutiny
In the midst of another weekend of killings which took the 2014 murder count to 207 in 173 days with only 26 of those murders ‘solved’, Minister of National Security Gary Griffith announced that a “complete audit” of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) is to be undertaken by two US law enforcement agencies to put the police force under greater scrutiny.
Griffith also revealed to the T&T Guardian that he is travelling to London for meetings with an agency recommended by the UK Government about improving the 13 per cent murder detection rate. Thirty citizens have been killed by police this year, inflaming tensions in high-crime areas and raising questions about policing methods.
In a press release sent out on Saturday evening, the Ministry of National Security acknowledged there were “shortcomings” in the police force and said the country is now exposed to “varying threats, some of which may not have even existed decades ago.” The release concluded that “the present establishment of the TTPS does not cater for these new threats.”
Griffith indicated he will aim to use the audit to guide his decisions on restructuring the police service, redistributing police officers and potentially creating new security agencies in the areas of “intelligence gathering, covert operations, crime scene investigation, a special victims unit, child protection task force, (and) an emergency sections unit.” He also said policing would become more proactive rather than reactive.
Griffith has been in New York for the past fortnight discussing the details of the audit with two agencies, Harnett Associates and Giuliani Solution Point Global Services (GSPGS.) Harnett Associates, is run by New York Police Commissioner William Bratton’s right hand man, Patrick Harnett and will be responsible for a comprehensive operational review of the TTPS.
GSPGS is the security firm of former New York Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani who has met with Griffith to discuss the computerisation of crime statistics, a fingerprint database, customer service training and anti-corruption initiatives. Contacted by the T&T Guardian yesterday, Griffith was asked whether a 13 per cent murder detection rate implies a lack of skills and training in the TTPS.
He replied, “Not necessarily,” then added, “I am travelling to London to meet with a highly qualified agency to deal with this, as recommended by the UK Government. However the ultimate mechanism to increase detection rate in homicides is human intelligence.
It is difficult to detect a murder if there are no witnesses… Hence the drive I am pushing with getting the public to have a system to relay information to the law enforcement agencies via VIPO (Virtual Police Officer) and also using systems to win back the trust between citizens and police which also includes weeding out the rogue elements in the service.”
VIPO was announced in December last year as a secure electronic way for citizens to pass information anonymously to the police to assist their investigations. Asked whether T&T has enough specialist homicide detectives, Griffith said that the audit will provide the answer to that. Asked whether the audit would lead to further collaboration with international law enforcement agencies in terms of policing on the ground in Trinidad, he said “Yes, I believe so.”
Who will be carrying out the police audit?
‘Bill’ Bratton, the recently reappointed New York Police Commissioner, visited Trinidad in November 2013 to speak at a conference organised by Griffith. An advocate of ‘zero tolerance’ policing and ethnically diverse police forces, Bratton has had his policies praised and criticised in his roles as police chief in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. He was New York police chief between 1994 and 1996 where he helped to reduce the crime rate before being ousted by Mayor Giuliani.
In July 2011, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, approached Bratton about becoming Metropolitan Police Commissioner in London, just weeks before rioting swept the country for five days following the killing of an unarmed suspected drug dealer by police officers.
Bratton’s advocacy of the ‘broken window’ method of policing, in which petty crimes are clamped down on in order to prevent them escalating into serious crimes, may receive public support in T&T. But residents in communities like Laventille, Morvant and Beetham where tensions between residents and the police are already high, might raise eyebrows at any suggestion of further clampdowns.
In 2006, Harnett Associates conducted a review of the Oakland Police Department in California, an area with a history of community-police tension. It recommended a change in policy away from a “shift-driven approach” to “information-led and community-led” policing—the implication being that police should be seen as part of a community rather than simply turning up to do a job.
In 2013 the Bratton Group was hired to review Oakland Police Department again after the FBI reported that Oakland’s robbery rate was the worst in the country with 12 robberies a day. Oakland’s police chief resigned in the wake of the report. On his visit last year, Bratton visited ‘at-risk’ areas in Laventille, including Beverley Hills, with Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, accompanied by Harnett.
In a press conference during that visit, Bratton said that his CompStat model—a crime-mapping tool developed in the early 1990s to facilitate targetted police response in areas where crime is occurring—can be modified to work in any country. He also suggested T&T’s crime problems are not radically different to any other country with high crime levels, including the problem of corruption within the police force.