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Sunday 16 June 2019
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Transforming the police

WITH THE crime situation one that continues to alarm even the highest levels of governance, Finance Minister Colm Imbert was under pressure on Monday to outline a plan to deal with the rampant criminality that continues to plague the nation. He delivered the closest thing yet to a crime plan we have had: a suite of impressive measures which, on paper, can go a long way towards transforming the Police Service.

Imbert announced the setting up of a centralised operational command centre; expansion of the highly effective K9 unit; greater use of drone surveillance; GPS and dashboard cameras in police vehicles; body cameras on all officers; laptops and tablets for all police vehicles; computerised police stations; officers will be authorised to carry non-lethal weapons; and the police uniform is to be made more appropriate to our climate.

It is startling many of these measures have not been adopted already. Most provide such self-evident advantages to the Police Service that we must really question why, despite the expenditure of billions by governments, they have not yet been implemented.

A centralised operations centre has the potential to better co-ordinate scarce police resources and to enable officers on the ground to have the real-time information they need when engaging with the public on going into dangerous situations. While we understand the vulnerabilities of cyber networks, that police stations and vehicles are not fully computerised is baffling.

The issue of body cameras has been pending for some time now. Despite a trial run, these cameras are yet to be fully deployed. Such cameras would greatly assist officers in the execution of their duties by recording fully their engagement with people. Not only are these cameras useful in disproving false allegations in cases of police shootings, but they can also put members of the public who interact with officers at ease in the knowledge that the interaction is being recorded and is subject to review.

Officers would also be allowed to carry non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray, Tasers, mace, and rubber bullets. This would allow officers to respond with a more proportionate degree of force in a situation in which the rate of police killings is too high.

Laptops and tablets, if properly used and not abused, can allow officers to conduct basic checks on matters before them. Again, these can be done in real time, resulting in a better quality of engagement.

At the same time, the allocation to the Police Service has remained at about $2.1 billion. (There is a negligible decrease of $34 million largely because of a trimmed overtime allocation). It is hoped that the State has worked out the cost of the new measures and intends to swiftly implement them. The last thing we need is a grand plan that never sees the light of day.

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