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Monday 17 June 2019
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Commentary

A nation of ostriches

REGINALD DUMAS

THE COMMISSIONER of Police and the president of the Police Social and Welfare Association (PSWA) have both expressed dismay at the apparent public indifference to the fate of the policeman recently shot in Carenage. Presumably to generate sympathy, the police have shown a video of the policeman’s torso, with bandages and tubes. I don’t know what impact, if any, it has had.

But if there is indifference, surely the TTPS should be asking itself why, and then doing something about it? Expressing surprise and unhappiness, and wringing hands, isn’t the answer.

The overall reality, as I and others have so often pointed out, is that confidence in, and respect for, our institutions have been declining for years – Parliament, for instance (which seems little more now than a stage for bad actors making bad political declamations), the judiciary (of which I need say nothing), the Public Service etc. And the TTPS as well.

The Sunday Newsday of May 12 last carried a story about the Report of the National Security Joint Select Committee on the October 2017 Report of the Police Manpower Audit Committee (PMAC). The PMAC found that “96 per cent of (police) officers thought the public had little or no confidence in the TTPS…” Ninety-six per cent!

That was 2017, you may say. But has that percentage significantly reduced since? If not, should the lack of public concern about the shot policeman’s condition occasion any surprise? Where would we be heading, though?

The PMAC further said that 40 per cent of the police interviewees thought there was corruption in their service. However, officers refrained from whistle-blowing for fear of reprisals by their own errant colleagues. Where are we heading? We have always been told that the function of the police is to “protect and serve.” We thought that vow applied to us, not to the police themselves.

The PMAC recommended that a “trusting and more responsive relationship between the police and the community needs to be rebuilt as a matter of urgency.” How, in the present circumstances? I agree that the report did make several recommendations in this regard, but is there the will to implement them? (The report, remember, was submitted in October 2017.) Is there optimism they will work?

I must also say that, however many gung-ho admirers he may have, aspects of the Police Commissioner’s public conduct bother me. Attacking individuals by name, sending them sneering WhatsApp messages (two were brought to my notice the other day), and resorting to unnecessary sarcasm when answering questions do not bolster either his image or that of the TTPS.

(I too have indirectly felt the whiplash of his contempt. In an article last November, I said that his calling people “cockroaches” wasn’t the kind of language to use. The next month, following the shooting death of a policeman, he was quoted as saying that he “would love to hear any of the criminal sympathisers who get upset when I refer to cold-blooded murderers as ‘cockroaches’ now.” I, a “criminal sympathiser?”)

And I can only describe his recent media conference on the Carenage shootings as bewildering. If the matter was to be, or was being, investigated by both the TTPS (which he heads) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), why this attempt to pre-judge the issue and show the police to be in the right? Even without speaking to Carenage residents? No wonder he was diplomatically chided by the PCA, and rebuked by the PSWA president, who said he “needs to withdraw in terms of public statements on an ongoing investigation…(and drop the) tit-for-tat (attitude)…”

I said last year that our gunslingers don’t scare easily. “One-shot-one-kill” doesn’t unsettle them in the slightest, and our enthusiasts who think it’s the way to “solve crime” should bear in mind that there’s no shortage of live replacements for every dead gunslinger.

As usual in this place, we’re focusing on effects, not on causes. I wrote this last August: “(I)mportant and necessary as law enforcement is, it concentrates almost exclusively on effects. Is such an approach…likely to put a long-term dent in violent criminal activity?...Or will more and more malefactors be churned out from our factories of social exclusion?...How much attention have we been paying to the underlying causes of certain conduct and world views?”

I’m advised that nearly all our hotspots are in disadvantaged, black-majority areas. No, that isn’t a racial comment. (And, coming from me, it could hardly be racist.) Are there implications for the wider society? In equity? Health (physical and mental)? Educational and professional development? Values? Security? But this society is like an ostrich, and you know what ostriches are famous for.

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