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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Commentary

Defeating crime was never a one-man show

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

THE NATURE of crime in TT is the inevitable consequence of a dam that burst a long time ago. It unleashed a torrent of blood and mayhem that’s beginning to cement perceptions of life in this country. We are judged by other nations for our murderous bent.

It’s not surprising then that a considerable amount of hope, if not all, was reposed in Police Commissioner Gary Griffith. Even his candidacy stirred unusual excitement.

In the past, the selection of a police commissioner was either met with shoulder-shrugging indifference or scarcely audible murmurs of approval or scepticism. This time around, people followed the process with an enthusiasm normally reserved for the Road March competition or, at least, a curry duck clash.

Griffith was the favourite because of his tough talk and contagious pluck. He was going to pluck and gut these criminals whether in suits or in three-quarters flashing their hindquarters.

Additionally, Griffith cultivated a media-friendly and accessible persona. This was a radical departure from commissioners past who were either toothless bulldogs, reclusive pompeks or, latterly, shy but not-retiring types.

Gary Griffith wasn’t, by any means, selling the nation on overnight solutions. The secret of his seduction lay in his no-nonsense outlining of strategy, of a kind at least. In his rapid-fire way of talking, Griffith convinced us there are simple things that can be done immediately to arrest spiralling violent crime. Technology, increased police presence, a zero-tolerance policy etc; no snake oil salesman here. Griffith’s primary product is far more enticing – the restoration of faith and hope.

“Give me a year to improve the Police Service and make TT a safer place.”

A bold pitch for public confidence from the commissioner. Honestly, the 90s era Slim Fast slogan, “Give us a week, we’ll take off the weight!” was more believable. Still, Griffith’s early successes stoked those fires of optimism. The recovery of kidnap victims unharmed and home in time for dinner, high-profile drug busts...this is the sort of derring-do called for by these desperate times.

There isn’t anything discernible from the commissioner in the way of a coherent policy for guiding law enforcement and ensuring the sustainability of crime-fighting strategies. Perhaps, though, people have had enough of plans and reports.

A beleaguered population wanted an action hero, a Jean Claude Van Damn you all to hell! Here is a man with a military background prepared to put on his camouflage costume, strap a gun around his neck and go into the fray with his officers.

Griffith, of course, took on the more treacherous work of facing the media microphones and cameras. Treacherous because he made the mistake many politicians do in assuming journalists are friends. Consequently, if a journalist writes an unflattering story or asks difficult questions, the friend and the media as a whole suddenly become the enemy.

What Griffith, an old military man, should know is, fighting a war on two fronts is troublesome. The commissioner shouldn’t split his focus between the criminal onslaught and prosecuting a battle with the media. This, however, is the inevitable result of concentrating attention, and the promise of deliverance, on oneself. These things usually end in tears, as the warmth of adulation quickly becomes blinding scrutiny. Even the most celebrated CEO is given the boot when promises made go unfulfilled.

In the gap, this country is experiencing what feels like our killers and robbers having renewed their vows. Earlier this year the police released comparative statistics suggesting appreciable declines in violent crime between this year and the last. There’s less of that month-by-month accounting now as the victims are stacking up on the abacus of death.

It’s time the public comes to accept that getting crime under control was never within the power of one man. That’s all too convenient and stems from the same citizen absenteeism governing the way we vote. Politicians tell us one thing, we give them our support and go our merry way. When they do the opposite of what they promised, we get vex and vote for the other politicians selling us the same deceptive drivel. We no longer have the luxury of being so intellectually lazy.

NGOs, communities, individuals, along with the Ministry of National Security and the TTPS all bear responsibility for bridling violent crime and widespread lawlessness. We must take the focus off Griffith as he must take the focus off the media. One besuited, buffoonish celebrity crime-fighter is more than enough for this entire nation.

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