I'm a huge Sean Connery fan. And although he is best known for his stint as the British superspy, James Bond, I prefer his post-Bond work, portraying characters that are older and more thoughtful. One of my favourites is The Untouchables, a 1987 American gangster film about Prohibition-era Chicago and loosely based on the exploits of Eliot Ness, a federal agent working to take down the crime syndicate of Al Capone. Connery stars as James Malone, a veteran "beat cop" who is recruited by Ness for his experience and incorruptibility. Before agreeing to join, Malone questions Ness as to how far he is willing to go to combat organised crime in the city, implying that it will take more than simple determination and strict adherence to police procedure. Not long after that blunt conversation, Malone leads Ness' team of "untouchables", so nicknamed for their reputation of operating above the law, on their first liquor raid.
Acting without official intelligence or a search warrant, he states "Everyone knows where the booze is. The problem isn't finding it…the problem is 'who wants to cross Capone'." Their first bust is a success; a minor one at best. But it nonetheless sends a clear message to the city's police force, the criminal elements, and the public that things are going to change.
News on crime took a series of interesting set of twists and turns in the past few weeks. There was the report that police officers were providing escort services to fete goers. Then the high-profile interdiction of a sex trafficking ring. And finally, the investigative report revealing that suspected gang leaders had been awarded government contracts. You know…none of those things surprises me, and I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one who feels that way. News like that only adds credence to the popular catchphrase that "Trinidad is not a real place." Because let's be honest, we've all heard the rumours that such things were going on; our country makes a morose joke of harbouring secrets that are publically known. Long has there been "talk", both on the streets and in high society, that "some police does have a side hustle" or "dat is de place where all dem Spanish h... does be". And, most flagrant of them all, let's not forget the now infamous photo of Cedric "Burkie" Burke, a suspected gang leader, posing next to our President, during a state function, as a "guest' of an MP; as if we needed any more proof of the Government's collusion with criminal elements. To paraphrase Officer Malone—everyone knows about these illegal enterprises…the problem is finding people who are willing to confront the criminals and the corruption head-on.
'More pomp than substance'
As if an answer to our prayers, we got Gary Griffith. After decades of ineptitude and corruption, both in the T&T Police Service and the Ministry of National Security, we got us a tough-talking former soldier who is willing to put his reputation on the line. After some six months serving as Commissioner of Police, the G-man still enjoys a high approval rating amongst the public. Good for him. However, when one considers that the crime rate remains unchanged, it begs the question as to the real measure of his effectiveness. Love him or hate him, one can't deny Commissioner Griffith's penchant for bravado. His presence in the field, dressed in tactical gear and flanked by armed, masked officers, definitely panders to the media and the national audience. That image, combined with his bellicose rhetoric towards the criminal elements, has helped him cultivate a persona that he "kicks a.. and takes no prisoners".
What is ironic is how he has turned on the very entity that helped propel him to crime-fighting stardom. During a recent appearance on CNC3's Morning Brew, he took the media to task—the Guardian in particular—for interviewing Cedric Burke following a police operation at his home. The CoP believes that putting Mr Burke in the spotlight was essentially glorifying gang leaders and gang culture. I think his criticism was a bit of a stretch; few in our national community would be sympathetic to Burkie's distress. And I highly doubt that his underlings are avid readers of this newspaper or any newspaper for that matter.
That being said, with all due respect to Commissioner Griffith, I suspect that his ire had less to do with the media's reporting and more to do with his methods being brought into question. He often speaks of waging "a war" on crime and the criminal elements; extreme language indeed, but not necessarily inaccurate. Unless you've been living in La La Land or serving in our Parliament (the same place), it's abundantly clear that previous techniques weren't working. Despite the multitude of studies conducted and the likewise amount of initiatives implemented, crime continued to spiral out of control.
Therefore, it's understandable why Gary Griffith, a former military officer, would approach this matter in an unconventional, boorish manner, even if it seems to be more pomp than substance. The concern, however, is that the commissioner's statements reveal a willingness to operate above the law, even if that means ignoring proper police procedure and respecting the rights of suspected criminals; anything to get the job done. Even then, the public's support for him not only validates his methods but also shows their own willingness to endorse his taking of such draconian measures. Needless to say, this is a dangerous mindset.
For the record, I openly support the CoP and the notion that desperate times call for desperate measures. Both are the result of a crime situation that wasn't being dealt with by the relevant authorities. But in all fairness, the fears of Commissioner Griffith becoming a law unto himself are unfounded. Apart from his "talk", he has in no way encroached on civil liberties. The reputation of acting in a manner akin to Elliot Ness' Untouchables might just be enough to shake up the status quo. But if citizens are curious as to just how far Gary Griffith is willing to go to clean up our country, I would say that it's a fair question. And it's in all our best interest to keep a close eye on him.