Getting ready for the mass exhale

Municipal police officers of the Port of Spain City Corporation keep a close eye on a vendor who was industucted to pack up her goods for illegally vending along Henry Street, Port of Spain. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
Municipal police officers of the Port of Spain City Corporation keep a close eye on a vendor who was industucted to pack up her goods for illegally vending along Henry Street, Port of Spain. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

The Police Service is sensibly preparing for the country's response to the removal of the state of emergency and upcoming Christmas season.

ACP Erla Christopher said during Thursday's press conference, "the troops" are being called out to increase patrols, suppress gangs, recover illegal guns and control the spread of the virus.

As many as 1,400 officers are expected to meet this challenge. To build those numbers, at least 200 officers will be reassigned to manage post-curfew exuberance, and constables and corporals will have their vacations abruptly postponed.

They will be supplemented by new officers in two tranches from the police academy and Special Reserve Police.

Insp Gideon Dickson, the president of the Police Service and Welfare Association, says the job will be particularly difficult for officers who have had delays with incremental backpay and outstanding salaries,

But Mr Dickson, along with senior officers, expects only the best from officers.

The police service faces these challenges when its senior leadership has been largely gutted, leaving Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob in charge of the force by default.

Officers can expect to be tested; but will they pass the test?

When Tobago election candidates presented their nomination papers at electoral offices last Monday, they showed up with celebratory crowds, in defiance of covid19 rules of assembly, and the police present did nothing.

Mr Jacob acknowledged the failing and called on his officers and Tobago's campaigning politicians to do better.

He will need to extend that call to the population at large. The public's behaviour will be a significant factor in TT's capacity to control the surge in covid19 cases that threatens imminently to overwhelm the public health sector.

The next cases are likely to come from an increase in congregation that comes with the lifting of the curfew.

The government will also have to confront other challenges to existing restrictions.

In an impassioned letter to Newsday, Ramesh Persad-Maharaj, president of the Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre, noted that members of the Hindu faith turn to the ocean in November for a bath of purification in the sea. Mr Persad-Maharaj also pointed out that a proper Hindu marriage ceremony requires more time than the 90 minutes granted by the State for services in temples.

The call for more freedom to exercise the right to worship and the right to swim in open waters will be part of other demands to “open up” after long months of restrictions.

Along with their duty to manage crime, balancing freedom of movement and association with necessary restrictions will increasingly become the business of officers on the beat.

The quality of their interventions will play a big role in realising the government's hopes to control the transmission – indeed, the frighteningly rapid spread – of covid19.

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"Getting ready for the mass exhale"

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