Erla's historic role

Commissioner of Police Erla Christopher. File photo/Sureash Cholai
Commissioner of Police Erla Christopher. File photo/Sureash Cholai

On Friday, the 36 Members of Parliament present unanimously voted to approve the appointment of Erla Harewood-Christopher as the country's first female Commissioner of Police.

Ms Harewood-Christopher was the top choice on the Police Service Commission's merit list sent to President Paula-Mae Weekes and brought to Parliament by the Prime Minister.

The vote ended a 17-month run of acting appointments in the role after Gary Griffith's contract came to an end in August 2021.

The unanimity of endorsement also offered hope that the Government and Opposition might set aside political rivalry to collaboratively mobilise effective governance to address crime.

Ms Harewood-Christopher has acted in the position of CoP since last December, after McDonald Jacob proceeded on pre-retirement leave.

It's a big jump for the law enforcement professional, whose last formal appointment in the Police Service was as an acting Deputy Commissioner of Police – before that she was an assistant commissioner – then holding the top job after the abrupt departure of Mr Jacob.

In her short time as acting CoP, she has not hesitated in making difficult decisions, notably wasting no time in suspending an off-duty police officer captured on video in the city centre physically intimidating a female police warden.

The last thing that the first woman to lead the Police Service – since the first female recruits in 1955 – needs is to be seen as soft on discipline in the ranks, and the challenges she will face in driving change in the service will surely test her resolve.

She also doesn't have the comfort of uncontested tenure as her appointment comes to a formal end in May when she hits the mandatory retirement age of 60 for the service.

Beyond that, her time in the role can be extended annually based on a Cabinet evaluation of her performance in the role.

It's an untidy set of limitations on the top cop, a variation on the continuous extensions that prior acting police commissioners have endured, sometimes for many undignified years.

Little is known of the new CoP's history in the Police Service, but this shattering of a previously impregnable glass ceiling in a demonstrably macho organisation suggests that Ms Harewood-Christopher's appointment isn't just historic, it's inspiring to the hundreds of WPCs in the force.

It's unlikely that the CoP's rise through the ranks was untarnished by misogyny and sexism, so the shenanigans of political mischief-makers are only likely to be a drizzle after the storms she has endured in pursuing her career to this pinnacle.

Ms Harewood-Christopher will face considerable challenges in managing the Police Service during a surge in murders and crime, but she also has an opportunity to bring a different perspective to the problem, not least through inspiring a higher profile of woman-led policing and community initiatives that engage TT society in common purpose.


"Erla's historic role"

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