Erla Harewood-Christopher was not well known outside of law enforcement circles when she emerged as the top choice on the Police Service Commission’s merit list that was submitted to President Paula-Mae Weekes earlier this year.
But her experience and qualifications were impressive enough to get unanimous approval in Parliament, clearing the way for her history-making appointment as the country’s first female Commissioner of Police.
The goodwill she still enjoys from politicians and citizens provides an extraordinary opportunity for the CoP to gain public trust and inspire positive change as she leads the fight against crime. However, that trust and confidence can be quickly eroded by communications blunders, which is the best way to describe the CoP’s comments to Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CCIC) members earlier this week.
Her admission that reducing the murder rate is still “a bit beyond” the capabilities of the TTPS was bad enough. What made things much worse is that just a fortnight ago, she promised to reduce T&T’s high murder rate by June.
It was a pledge made when Commissioner Harewood-Christopher was facing intense grilling from the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security and even then, it seemed like a lofty goal given a TTPS crime detection rate below 13 per cent and a murder rate that continues to climb steadily.
However, the CoP now seems to be backpedalling on that promise just when she should be inspiring public confidence. Even more alarming was her statement that the country is dealing with an unnatural evil and that without divine intervention, her anti-crime strategies are doomed to fail.
Just when she should be building public trust in the TTPS, the CoP’s inconsistent messaging is doing the opposite.
If, as seems to be the case, the CoP has been making off-the-cuff comments, she will always be at risk of creating the wrong impression.
It is unfortunate that so early in her tenure, Commissioner Harewood-Christopher is failing to effectively communicate—a skill that is critical if she is to inspire positive change. If that is the case, she needs to brush up on her public speaking urgently.
An inability—or unwillingness—to clearly and consistently communicate could be a serious impediment as she tries to transform the TTPS into an agile and effective crime-fighting entity.
While it was commendable the CoP took the time to meet with the CCIC, she should have been better prepared.
Now that she sits at the helm of the TTPS—a difficult assignment made more challenging as T&T grapples with the highest number of murders in its history—the CoP must take the time to talk to the public and make every effort to be present, visible, available, open and transparent in addressing concerns about crime as they arise.
Having raised expectations by setting deadlines for reducing the murder rate, however, the CoP seems to already be projecting a lack of confidence in her own ability to achieve that objective. She will now have to embark on damage control, hopefully with support from the TTPS communications team and in the future, she must avoid repeats of those blunders.