THE POLICE should be praised for the swift apprehension of suspects and the recovery of a stolen mobile phone in relation to the carjacking of television anchorman Khamal Georges. However, the circumstances which led to Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams issuing an apology to Georges on Friday left a lot to be desired. The fact that George’s car was stolen, for a second time, while in police custody is an embarrassment which the Police Service will not easily live down. An apology was issued and an “internal disciplinary process” was launched. But the reputation damage has been done.
The Besson Street Police Station has long been in what is regarded as a crime hotspot. Besson Street is located within the Port-of-Spain Division which, as at July, saw an increase in its murder tally, moving from 36 in 2017 to 42 this year. But the division, under Senior Supt Floris Hodge-Griffith, now has a detection rate of 36 per cent, an increase of 125 per cent over last year, and overall serious crime is down five per cent.
Yet, all that was erased in terms of public perception when bandits were able to make off with a car that had just been recovered in a high-profile case. Stunned security sources said they could not imagine such a brazen act of criminality. They should temper their shock and awe. Ordinary citizens will tell them this is the reality of life in Trinidad and Tobago. What of the many people who are victims of crime on a daily basis who are not in the public eye?
We are relieved Georges is safe and that his property has been recovered. No doubt he has gone through a harrowing ordeal. But a complete investigation of the situation at the Besson Street Police Station needs to occur. If, and the statements thus far from the Police Service suggest, fault on the part of officers was at play, such officers should be held accountable.
It is not good enough to launch a probe and then hope it will fade under the nine-day wonder rule. When people go to police stations they should be able to expect safety. The breaking of the custody chain in this matter raises troubling questions over how the police might be handling other items within its possession, such as evidence and intelligence files.
None of this is a promising start for new Minister of National Security Stuart Young, though the minister cannot be blamed for operational failings of the police. But questions of accountability, reform of the Police Complaints Authority, as well as the total budgetary allocation to the police, do fall within Young’s ambit.
This incident is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to recover the Police Service’s stolen prestige.