Any effort to improve public confidence in the T&T Police Service (TTPS) has been seriously undermined by recent events which raise fresh concerns about the state of law and order in this country.
Citizens have been expressing doubts about the ability of officers to make a dent in the country’s crime situation, following the brazen bank burglary committed just opposite the Couva Police Station over the long Indian Arrival weekend.
Right under the noses of police officers, criminals were able to make a hole in the wall at the back of the Republic Bank branch on the Southern Main Road, which is obliquely opposite the station and less than a 100 metres away. They made a second hole above the bank vault, piercing through inches of concrete and a one-inch-thick sheet of metal and removing ceiling tiles.
The crime was not detected until Tuesday, the first working day of the week when bank staff came across the debris left behind where the thieves made holes in the bank building. The crooks were able to make a clean break, arousing not even the slightest suspicion from the nearby police officers, as they made off with the contents of several safety deposit boxes.
But that was not the worst of it.
Faced with fierce public criticisms over the incident, acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob offered the very lame excuse that the officers might have mistaken the thieves for legitimate workmen. It was the worst possible defence of an incident that has attracted a lot of public criticism.
That does not help the badly blemished image of the TTPS, as it wages what seems like a losing battle against the criminal elements.
A few days earlier, Commissioner Jacob admitted that he was not surprised at T&T’s abysmal ranking of sixth, with a rate of 71.63 per 100,000 people, among countries with the highest crime rates. The statistics were posted by the World Population Review in a report that highlighted this country’s “bureaucratic resistance to change, the negative influence of gangs, drugs, economic recession, and an overburdened legal system.”
Mr Jacob squandered two opportunities to dispel public perceptions about the inability of the TTPS to prevent, detect and successfully prosecute crimes. However, the onus remains on him to tackle this crisis in public confidence.
To be fair, the problem existed long before he was appointed and was further eroded by last year’s Police Service Commission debacle, a situation completely beyond his control.
But he should be concerned that he and his officers are being hampered daily by citizen distrust. Not only are people less likely to co-operate, but some might also actively resist law enforcement.
In his search for solutions to this persistent problem, the acting Commissioner might want to revisit a reform initiative from a few years ago that was implemented at five police stations. It was aimed at improving the services delivered by police stations, reducing crime and increasing public confidence by introducing service-oriented, problem-solving approaches.
Unfortunately, that effort seems to have been abandoned and the TTPS appears to once again be mired in archaic, failed policing methods.
This is a chance for Mr Jacob to show some enlightened, out-of-the-box thinking and make boosting the image of the TTPS one of his top priorities.