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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Alliance against crime

Undertakers move the body of a man who was shot dead at the Chaguanas market on December 24, 2019. There were 538 murders in 2019. - Vashti Singh
Undertakers move the body of a man who was shot dead at the Chaguanas market on December 24, 2019. There were 538 murders in 2019. - Vashti Singh

Alliance. This is the magic word to help effective crime control, crime prevention and detection. It means “an agreement or union to co-operate for a common good,” and what better democratic crime-fighting instrument can you develop than an alliance between lawful citizens and the relevant government agencies?

This was done under the Basdeo Panday administration in 1995 (next week’s column). From investigations and law enforcement to prosecution, public trust and support for the police and criminal justice system is of vital necessity in a democratic society. Civic alliance is the spark that brings community policing alive.

That is the free advice and help I offered the commissioner at our early meeting.

Leaving 2019 with 538 murders and into 2020, the daily news and letters to the editor reflect continued public worry about bloody crimes.

“It could have been worse” is not a helpful explanation. It was just noise and, worse yet, insults from the top. Attacking the person, the messenger, rather than the issue. And perhaps unwittingly, turning friends into enemies.

Help is needed. Why squander goodwill and opportunity? All this giving the impression that the alliances required for supporting police and fighting crime are still far away.

In fact, there is a growing fear among citizens of criticising or even commenting on the police. You know what this means?

The media themselves seem to have lost the courage they expressed against the infamous Pubic Order Bill of 1970. After this bill was withdrawn, the government passed the Firearms Act (No 44 of 1970) which contains very severe restrictions and penalties for gun possession, gun violence and illegal gun trafficking. This act also gave police increased powers to search homes without warrant, etc. With the recent series of “no bail” legislation, one wonders when it will stop, and why are gun violence and illegal guns still increasing.

Among numerous letters last week, Noble Philip noted, “The tyranny of the scared majority tramples the rights of others to maintain some semblance of public order.” His letter was headlined: Are we heading into the abyss?

Clyde Pilgrim’s letter was headlined: Only crime and chaos. Brian E Plummer stated: “The problem (high murder rate) has never been addressed adequately and current methods are more of the same with increased policing. The use of strong policing is an extension of business as usual.”

Now, as happens in a democracy, there will be difference of opinion. But overall, there is great public concern over current approaches and the sometimes rude resistance to listen.

Mohan Ramcharan’s letter advised the commissioner: “Rather than fight tooth and nail with your critics who are obviously aware that you are failing in your responsibilities as commissioner, won’t it be better to ‘man up’ and recognize the nature of the beast you are fighting?” He further advised: “If you want to succeed, rather than further alienating your detractors, identify the core problem you face, which is that your current service is not effective in its present form.”

Another letter-writer, Athelston Clinton, warned against “putting plasters on sores” and called for a return to basic community policing with quickened service response.

And so it goes on and on.

As the killings begin, it seems that the fight against crime, especially serious crimes and murders, will be a tough one in 2020.

One of the serious challenges is how to preserve the essence of Sections 4 and 5 (rights, freedoms, due process) of the Constitution, as well as the constitutional independence of our service commissions, Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sooner or later, it also seems that both the PCA and Police Service Commission will have to answer some serious questions. Remember, the executive and Parliament are required to make laws and are held accountable, while the police service is to implement and also held accountable: the democratic way.

Given the spread of public opinion, it seems that key national security agencies would do well to consider that making a special-majority law for today’s expediency may turn out dangerously counterproductive in the long term. Proportionality seems to have slipped by.

And that the officials in whose hands such a law is placed have the appropriate attitude and temperament for fair and just implementation.

Civic alliances against crime are needed in 2020.

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