Close your eyes, imagine going back to August 31, 1962, seated in the Red House in Port-of-Spain in the presence of the Princess Royal as then prime minister Dr Eric Williams gave his iconic...
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‘Lack of trust for police hampering detection rate’
Laventille as a community will not share information with the police in their efforts to combat criminal activities, but the depressed area can be saved from the ravages of the gun-toting killers. This is the optimistic stance of Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams who has been heading the T&T Police Service (TTPS) since 2008.
Williams who joined the TTPS as a constable in 1979 and studied for his law degree while in the service, speaks of how he felt when he was bypassed by the then government for the position after meeting all the qualifications required. He said there will be a major change in the TTPS in the next three years, with the accent on quality service to the public and an increase in the crime detection rate.
Q: Mr Commissioner, let us immediately get down to brass tacks on this very serious business of crime in the country, why is the crime detection rate so abysmally low?
A:(Hands on his lap in his office at the T&T Police Service Administration Building on Sackville Street, Port-of-Spain, Wednesday afternoon):
The issue has come to the fore at this time, but the organisation’s detection rate has been poor for many, many years. One of the things which impact our detection rate has to do with public confidence and trust in the Police Service...sharing information freely with the police. The police have had basically a challenge with their relationship with the public.
If we cannot solve the crime then we would be spinning top in mud...
Well, that is why in 2013 when we pursued our operating plan one of the major focus had to do with us looking at prevention as we seek to build capacity and to treat detection as an additional feature, prevention being the dominant feature.
If you don’t have crime there is none to detect. You agree with me?
If you prevent crime you have less to detect.
But the public is not satisfied with the current rate of detection?
Well, I am not too sure you are correct. In 2013 T&T recorded 13,146 serious crimes, the lowest recorded figure for serious crimes since 1985. Some people may say, well, it is an issue of people not reporting, but the issues of trust and confidence in the Police Service is not today, so that is not necessarily a factor at all.
(Outstretched hands) We went about on a thrust in a clear, deliberate, strategic approach towards prevention. In 2013 the Government provided the service with an additional 332 vehicles. We went on a massive drive...a visible, active police presence across T&T and any citizen who says “I am not seeing a big difference with the presence of police,” I would say they are not speaking the truth.
I am not denying that fact, but isn’t it a question of the police not being motivated to work harder on the rate particularly as it relates to homicides?
No, No, because it is not one issue when you have to consider detection of offences. Even if we go into analysing crime detection, what we have found is that across the country you have different levels of detection. In certain divisions you have a high of 40 per cent which is quite different from other locations. Port-of-Spain detection rate is (emphasising) extremely low. But if you take the dominant rural communities Eastern and South Western Divisions...extremely high.
What accounts for these varying levels?
The people in rural communities still carry a very close working relationship with the police. In the urban areas where we have all the depressed communities as Laventille, Beetham...when a crime is committed you do not get people sharing anything with you.
The fact that you are seeing a high number of crimes being committed with a low detection rate, doesn’t that say the police have to pay greater attention to these affected areas?
Yes, I agree, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have increased our level of presence, and an area where we have had a historical challenge to treat with violent crimes is the broad east Port-of-Spain/Laventille area. We have gone into those locations focusing on, if you may say so, the softer side of the TTPS engaging with the young people.
Because when we do so, we would be making a big difference as they would become the adults of tomorrow with a completely different mindset from those teenagers who are presently hurting the country by way of violence.
Mr Williams, there is a school of thought which links crime to poverty. I do not support that view, do you?
I do not support the view that there is this close link between crime and poverty, what we may find is that a lot of people in these depressed areas are committing crime, but that does not necessarily mean that if you are in one of these communities you need to commit crime. People, if properly guided, can find meaningful employment.
Another reason why it is difficult to get a handle on criminal activities is the presence of crooked cops in the Police Service. Are the corrupt officers hampering the good work being done by good police officers?
Well, corrupt officers will definitely have an adverse effect on the organisation and its membership, that is a fact. As an organisation it is our clear approach to focus on treating and dealing with these officers, and if we are running a police service we have to comply with the law.
(Throwing his head back on his swivel chair) If I had the freedom in the morning, every police officer who I suspect to be corrupt I would fire them. Right now, it is critical for the Police Service to continue to pursue corrupt officers and to prosecute them for a criminal offence, but we have to depend on the criminal justice system to get rid of them.
Do you have any idea how many police officers are facing criminal charges in the courts?
I don’t have a fixed number, but it runs into a few hundreds.
Mr Commissioner, what percentage of the Police Service do you think are rogue cops?
What percentage I perceive to be rogue cops? I would not put rogue police officers in the category of more than one per cent. But that’s large.
Mr Williams, are you happy with your acting position as Police Commissioner for such a long time?
Well, nobody loves to act, but I do not really focus on that as an issue.
I was told by...well...I cannot reveal the person’s name, that you are not satisfied with your present tenure and that your morale could be on the down low because of this acting situation?
(Chuckling which turns into laughter) No. No. I work longer than most people in this country. I am in office on Saturday and Sunday at times. I am commonly in my office six days a week, I arrive in office at 7 am and stay sometimes up to 9 pm. So if you have, quote and unquote, a grouse over your acting, you won’t be giving those kind of hours on the job.
If I were you, I wouldn’t be happy with this acing thing, and this is the feedback I have been getting where you are concerned.
Mr Raphael, if you throw your mind back to 2008, I went through the process designed to appoint a Commissioner of Police. I was selected, nominated by the Police Service Commission, it went to the President who sent it to the Parliament, and the then government failed to approve it. I continued to work in the service.
Didn’t you feel personally let down at that time?
(A somber expression) Yes. You will. You will. If you are in an organisation and you have passed all the rules required and the Government shifts the goal post, so after you basically see that okay you scored a goal, then they say “No, this is the wrong spot for the goal,” and they shift the goal post...You will feel affected, but that hasn’t stopped me from working extremely hard...but I have something to tell you.
In 2008, having been disappointed, I did not go and take sick leave. In fact, I joined the Police Service as a constable in 1979 and up to this date, I haven’t taken a single day sick leave. How many public officers can share that with you? God has been good to me, and today you see me here a little bit overweight (pointing to his tummy), but I am pretty okay. Acting has not affected my performance. I continue to work with my staff who keep delivering, and I am satisfied they are doing a fantastic job.
How can you say that with the homicide rate what it is...has Government been supplying the service with adequate artillery to fight the criminals?
The next thing I can share with you, Mr Raphael, is that when you talk about the murders, that is not a problem limited to the Police Service solving, you know? Violent crime is a social issue. When you were a young boy, if you got licks in school and you go home and tell your parents, they would double up the licks on you. Today, if you get licks, most likely many parents are going into the school and assault the teacher. Violence has become almost like a norm.
Mr Commissioner, another grievous feature of the crime scourge are the illegal guns. How do you propose getting them out of the hands of trigger happy criminals?
Mr Raphael, 75 per cent of all the murders…you have touched a very real point. Firearms are not manufactured in T&T, all are imported. Unless we stem the inflow of illegal firearms, we will have a problem with violence. The Police Service does not have a marine branch as existed years ago, we are not responsible for the ports of the country. Therefore, all these other agencies have to play their part, the Police Service is responsible for seeking out illegal firearms, arrest the holders of these weapons and so on.
I have been reading about these raids, how many guns have you discovered so far this year?
In 2014 we have seized in excess of 310...and that number compared to any previous years is almost double for any fixed time.