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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Taking fares

PARTY-GOERS should heed the call of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith not to feed the practice of paying bribes in exchange for police “escorts” out of congested fete areas. Equally, police officers responsible for this racket must face appropriate sanction.

So tiresome has the problem apparently become that Griffith on Sunday issued a public warning to officers, stating they could face disciplinary action, even dismissal.

He’s right to do so. Using police cars to bestow favours on a few in exchange for money is corrupt. It represents the use of state resources for private gain. It also results in a distortion of the distribution of manpower: police officers assigned to specific divisions have reportedly diverted themselves to the vicinity of fetes so as to cash in on fares. That’s dangerous, in addition to being insubordinate. All in all, it brings the entire service into disrepute, perpetuating the perception of a bribery culture.

There is already an uncomfortable nexus between policing and party promotion given the way the law arranges the process for the granting of fete licences. Police have considerable say in court over whether an event will go forward or not, when the matter is heard, and even the recommended manpower complement.

Promoters like Randy Glasgow have been complaining for some time now about having to pay vast sums to the Police Service under the current legal arrangements that ostensibly allow these payments in exchange for a police presence.

“Due to a number of economic and bureaucratic factors, our Carnival product has stood still, and in many cases regressed,” Glasgow last August warned.

In response, Griffith has pledged to revamp the way the police deal with Carnival events by deploying more strategic plans for each operation, establishing a mobile command unit and, crucially, setting up an account for promoters out of which extra-duty officers will be paid.

By providing more careful attention to these arrangements, the commissioner might leave less breathing room for the mushrooming of moonlighting. But while the current arrangement is not ideal, at least it is relatively transparent and managed by a clear process in which any member of the public affected can come forward and raise an objection. Not so in relation to these fly-by-night fares.

Adequate coverage of Carnival fetes is already a considerable enough challenge. There are about 200 events every season. While there is room for leeway, police cars should be used exclusively for activities relating to law enforcement. Police escorts, understood in the traditional sense, should be reserved for situations in which all members of society have a stake in the people or vehicles being escorted. Using these cars to bestow a special status on people who can pay money sends the signal that there is one law for the rich, another for the poor. That’s the last thing police officers need to do now.

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