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Thursday 13 December 2018
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Commentary

Getting our crime-fighting right

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

PAOLO KERNAHAN

Pt 2

RECENTLY, I attended a chamber breakfast event at which Police Commissioner Gary Griffith was the guest speaker. This was early on in his tenure when he still had that new-car smell, before the knocking sounds started coming from the engine compartment.

During the Q & A session, I asked about the application of technology in the service, particularly in police stations and patrol vehicles. An officer at the head table explained, in not so many words, “we already have that.”

With all the sodium in modern foods, there is never a grain of salt anywhere in sight when it’s most needed. The question arises, though, if we already have a technology-driven Police Service, why are officers still writing reports into those ridiculous ledgers? One would think that official police reports would be entered into a nationally networked computer database.

One of the panelists explained that abandonment of the station diary “system” would require a change to the law. That was one of greatest cop-outs from a cop I’d ever heard. It would seem to me that retention of the station diary procedure does not preclude the use of computers for recording police reports. Information written in the document of record can be transferred to a computer by a data entry clerk. In such a scenario, an officer in Diego Martin can pull up a record of a vehicle reported stolen in Moruga with a few keystrokes. A nationally networked system would also expedite the tracing of citizens’ criminal histories. Verification of a suspect’s resume has traditionally been a glacial process.

Without a strategic framework and a crime plan, a few computers scattered across the service won’t produce the results we so desperately need. The tools of technology are just that, tools. Admittedly, a crime plan isn’t as sexy as a news conference peppered with gun talk or a drug-and-gun-haul photo op in a neon shirt.

Rather than stiff and short on answers, we prefer a commissioner who will lick out Ninja man front teet’ with ah hammer. However, with crime as pervasive as it is, the Commissioner of Police, his officers and the Ministry of National Security need to work with a playbook.

In fairness to Griffith, though, he did express at the chamber event an enthusiasm to infuse the service with technology. If applied as part of a bigger crime strategy, technology can give our crime-fighting capability an edge over rampaging criminals. It can help drag us out of the station diary era and into the age of networked communications systems.

For the time being, however, sporadic police raids and what feels like a heightened sense of urgency on the part of the service to confront crime will have to suffice. The commissioner’s PR roadshow is certainly a hit. Griffith’s sparring with Fazeer Mohammed on television and interspersing public remarks with chuckle-worthy “Matrix” and “granny” references is fowl corn for the masses.

Indeed, many Trinis seem easily satisfied with the thought that someone, somewhere has the job in hand. Most citizens don’t really want to know how a thing is done. We, however, reserve the right to cuss when the facade falls and the failure is revealed. It’s also how we do our politics, and that has always worked out marvelously for us.

The commissioner’s recent utterances on the transfers of some officers who reportedly refused to take a polygraph test were received by the public with “Gih dem Gary!” In acknowledging that nothing legally compels these officers to submit to testing, Griffith flippantly rejoined, “I have court clothes!” That’s the sort of populist tripe that, while publicly appealing, doesn’t seem grounded in any structured approach to grappling with rogue elements in the service.

Police Commissioner Griffith has a unique opportunity to make a difference. He appears to have garnered the support of both his officers and the public. Griffith has the vigour and drive to deliver on his promises of reducing crime. What’s needed here is a strategic plan to harness that energy. There must be a policy to stimulate culture change in the service and make the best use of technology to fight the criminal element.

All this must work in tandem with community outreach to stifle the recruitment of young people into criminal lifestyles by so-called community leaders. Policing without a plan is like constantly bailing a leaky boat instead of fixing it. Yes, the commissioner must act now, but he must also act with a future in mind.

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