Rid the police of roughnecks

By Raffique Shah
March 10, 2012

Raffique ShahTHE murder rate ticks along, one-a-day, like some health supplement or prescription drug, with the arrests rate lagging behind the body count, as has always been the case. Robberies and burglaries, many of them as brazen as ever, CCTV recordings notwithstanding, gallop at an alarming pace. Acts of violence, threats that could turn crimson (as in blood), and entire communities cowed by gun-toting bullies, now a national pastime, go mostly unreported, except, perhaps, to Ian Alleyne and Crime Watch.

Why? The police have more serious matters to attend to. The daily media briefings, for example, a feature that emerged during the State of Emergency, an exercise in numbers crunching, has morphed into a 21st Century policing initiative. Image is important. Stars are manufactured. Oh, I almost forgot. There was that all-important issue of executing a warrant on an errant watchman who failed to pay child maintenance. Summon the troops. Jeep-loads of armed-to-the-teeth police officers—and don’t forget the battering-ram. Or the resident Jet-Li. Move in during the still of the night. The target is armed and dangerous.

What is happening in the Police Service? Is this a case where brawn still trumps brains? Where thugs-in-uniforms are symbols of police prowess? I hate to hurl yet another missile at besieged Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, but such is the burden of command. I think that the Canadian has been unfairly targeted in instances…a scapegoat of sorts. But given his experience, he must have known that he was in for a rough ride as CoP in a service that is riddled with rogues, a force that remains steeped in the culture of thuggery, and a country in which tolerance translates into a license to be lawless.

As is normal when columnists or others in the public make these observations, we qualify them by saying that many police officers execute their duties in a very professional manner, in accordance with their oaths of office. Sadly, all too often good policing by the many is overshadowed by the ugly actions of the few. What is worrisome is that the latter not only attract public attention, but their misconduct stands out like a big blot on the image of the entire Service.

Last Wednesday night, a number of them descended on the Laventille compound of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union. Their mission, it seems, was to arrest a night watchman who had an outstanding warrant for not paying child maintenance money as ordered by a court. You would think that one or two officers, maybe armed with batons, would suffice. Instead, what ought to have been a routine exercise turned into a display of thuggery that has always existed in the Service, but which, with the advent of CCTV cameras, is now available “live and alive” for public consumption.

And what the public saw was not nice. It was almost as if a nearby gang had descended on the union’s headquarters, bent on mayhem and murder. The police action, a wanton abuse of their powers, was ugly…and that’s putting it mildly. In the aftermath, they left a trail of destruction of property and many unanswered questions. Who authorised the raid? Why? Did the police not have serious crimes to arrest rather than batter a wayward father and in the process violate a trade union’s headquarters?

The frequency with which incidents of police brutality and abuse of power have occurred is cause for grave concern. Two media houses have felt the full force of what I can only term rank stupidity on the part of officers. Workers at Trinidad Cement Ltd, conducting a legal strike, were also subjected to police boorishness. Many other incidents within recent times, some of them now sub judice, call into question the kind of training these officers undergo.

It is not that police abuse of power is something new. Deviant elements in what was then appropriately named the Police Force used to bruise, batter, and sometimes kill civilians. Indeed, even soldiers were guilty of such misdeeds, although most times such incidents were retaliatory—as happened in Carenage in 1963. In recent times, though, soldiers have been accused of what I dub “abuse of uniform”. However, military justice is swift and often severe, not constrained by the niceties of civil or criminal law. The Commanding Officer of the Regiment (and the Coast Guard) wields immense power: he could jail and dishonourably discharge a junior officer or soldier, with loss of benefits, in short order.

With regard to police abuse, what is different is that nowadays, with monitoring devices installed just about everywhere, the miscreants are easily identified and exposed to public scrutiny. How the Service deals with guilty officers is quite another matter. In many instances the authorities simply transfer the miscreants to stations located in rural districts—which, in effect, amounts to transferring the problem, not resolving it in the best interests of the Service and the aggrieved parties. Or, some are suspended from duty with full pay for years. In rare cases, rogue officers face criminal charges, and even then they enjoy the protective cloak of their colleagues when they appear in court.

With the image of the Service in near-tatters, the public can only hope that the high command and the judicial authorities act swiftly to restore confidence in the police. In the wake of the TIWU incident, we expect to see heads roll—and not from one station to another. It is time to get rid of the roughnecks who bring the Service into disrepute. It was refreshing to hear Association president, Sergeant Anand Ramesar, call for a thorough investigation into the incident, and action on the findings. The public expects nothing less.

14 Responses to “Rid the police of roughnecks”


  • How do we know an outstanding warrant on the night watchman wasn’t a ruse; and the violation and vandalization of a “Trade Union’s headquarters” their original intent?

    Seems like a clear case of persons in authority sending a message or messages. C’mon Shah, as a former ‘soldier” you should be able to read the signs.

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    In the small state of Delaware where I once lived, all the state police officers are required to have college degees.(There are city and county officers also, where the demands are less stringent, but to be a statetrooper, a degree, preferrably n criminology is required.) It makes a big difference in the calibre of recruit. Colonial times left us with the requirement that the policeman had to be BIG and BAAAD, badder than the other bully. We have never really changed that perception in the light of modern policing.
    Policemen trained in psychology, with knowledge of how people are likely to react and why, may approach crime fighting from a position of intelligence, rather than brute force. There may well be times when force is needed, as in putting down a riot, but that is not always the case. Two people wih whom I used to discuss ways to reform the police serice have gone to the ancestors, their service here completed totally. One is retired and lives in the US, but my mantra remains the same. To improve the calibre of police officer, better training, more thorough training, longer periods of training and periodic retraining need to be our major thrust.Physical fitness is also required.
    How many police officers in TnT, in a routine chat with a child would uncover signs of abuse, physical or sexual? Would they know what to look for? Can they go to schools and lecture to teachers about this? Can they go to community centers and talk to youth about turning potentially wasted lives around?
    We need a proactive police service if crime is to come under control. We need children to know that the police officer is their friend, in case they need to run to him or her for help.

    What are children learning about our officers from those in their homes?On the street? In school?

  • How about fake degrees like your present Canadian born ,Commissioner of Police , does that work? This Mickey Mouse country, and it’s suspect leaders!

  • As one who has been a member of the Police Force a long time ago I must defend the police administration and I believe that they are generally honest and hard working people. Of late there appears to be a type of bullying which may be attributed to a kind of messaging with serious political overtones. The commissioner does not appear to have any control of this kind of violence. He seems to acquiesce in this new type of roughneck policing which can never be good for the image of the police. As a country the only respect we show towards fellow citizens is if we belong to the same political organization of if we share the same philosophy. Our men and women in uniform should be trained to respect common human decency.

  • “Our men and women in uniform should be trained to respect common human decency?” Really cuz Kian , and how do you propose doing that? Better yet , who would you like to be the body , or leader -domestic or foreign -to implement such “learnings?”
    There are those who naively think that 6 months training in the St James Barracks, is all it takes to mold a an effective law enforcement officer ,that cares about basic rights, and needs, of fellow citizens.Far from it!
    The behaviors of Police officers , like those in any government of the day,lofty Corporations,International Organizations,or prominent Civil Society bodies,are all reflective of the type of society, and collective peoples, from which they emerge ,Kian.
    Sometimes our well intentioned leaders,must develop the ability to look in the mirror and say , I was wrong ,then cut their losses , and start afresh when it comes to policy approaches.
    I see an interesting parallel between Her Majestic Queen K , and Uncle Barrack Obama Sister Linda’s President, and here it is. Upon assuming power ,she brought in a foreigner,as the new COP, and part of his goal, was to clean up this alleged corrupt,out of control, partizan , sub educated , para criminal body, so as to elevate it , perhaps to international standards.
    Most would agree that this has turned out to be a colossal failure, for many of the rank and file have responded negatively, to being treated as inconsequential idiots,while moral sunk even further, and runaway crimes remain the norm.

    http://www.islandjournal.net/reportc.htm? section=caribbeannewsnow&story=New-police-chief-in-Trinidad-pledges-to-root-out-corruption&id=26134&catid=17

    In Big brother America likewise,only this week ,a 38 year old armed American soldier – a father of two himself- ran amok , and murdered several innocent Afghan civilians,including kids?This was less than a month after others urinated on the Koran, and dead Afghans.
    The culprit it is claimed, was on his 4th tour of war duty.Some are saying, it’s time to end this Obama’s war,bring all the troops home , as the military is increasingly disgruntled at their Commander in Chief, who is looking to balance the national budget at their expense.
    Maybe they are correct, but my bigger point is that folks on the ground , be it low level public servant Police Officers , Military bunch,disgruntled Opposition Senators/ Back benchers, or even a disgruntled mid led CEO , can throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans of the brightest of well intentioned leaders. The prudent thing then is to … well seriously, this is over my pay grade!
    Like you I too had to learn to serve fellow citizens, in the quest to uphold the law …’without favor or affection, malice or ill will,’ cuz Kain.
    However,no amount of training would have ensured that I practice that effectively,if I had brought a savage,or corrupt mentality to the table. There is need for a new Moral order in T&T ,and it begins with sound Socio Political leadership. Keep Hope alive!

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    By contrast to the Big BAd Brother up there, TnT is a very trainable society.
    Tie promotion and pay raises to DEMONSTRATED CHANGED BEHAVIOURS.Design a form that clients of the police service would fill in and turn it to the complaints authority, evaluating their experience with the officer/s and providing names.
    Design a checklist of desirable police behaviours,provide each officer with a lminated copy to hang on his bedroom door, place on his desk, or loaded unto his new mobile phone. Provide a list to all media houses, so they could periodically ask the public how our officers are doing. Publicly salute the “good guys” with an officer of the month in each major area.These are tried and true methods that have been used in other places to improve attitude, morale and demonstrated output.
    IT CAN BE DONE.

  • The citizens also have a responsibility.
    Appeal to citizens to stop offering “gifts” to officers and/or make high-visibility arrests of people attempting to offer bribes.Those in the business community know exactly what I am talking about.

  • Guys, we know of many solutions that will work in a small community like Trinidad and Tobago and I might also include regional command performance reviews BUT crime in T&T is pervasive. It is both a business and a living hazzard to a people that only want to be left alone to have a good time. The underground economy is very large and the political will to change that culture is weak at best. Crime pays huge bonuses to some and there is no way that renewed policing could ever be established to be bold enough to tackle the business of crime. Neal, you are right about the will, political or civilian or military for that matter to formulate any meaningful offensive to change the culture because the profits in maintaining the statusco is too great to pass up for those with the power to effect change. The citizenry can only hope that one day, there will emerge a leader brave enough, not looking for personal gains, to revise our infrastructure to accommodate common sense policies without the need for partisanship that will focus on real nation building.

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    Would we not say that the present PM is the leader of a criminal bunch, taking her sister along on expensive trips at taxpayers expense, and when called on the carpet for it, first pleads “I need my sister”, then lied that “Robbie Did it too”?How can we hope to put a dent in crime, even with the most topnotch police service in the world when we are led by a woman who commandeers the crime fighting helicopter as her personal transport system, and allows Mr. Gibbs to buy stuff free sheet at taxpayers expense? Why should those lower on the totem ple not also rip off the people, when it seems that the public purse has fallen open on the street at Palmiste but only selected CAbinet members are allowed to raff(scramble) for it?

    • “the present PM is the leader of a criminal bunch” A LIE.

      ” we are led by a woman who commandeers the crime fighting helicopter as her personal transport” A LIE

      “allows Mr. Gibbs to buy stuff free sheet at taxpayers expense?” A LIE

      “it seems that the public purse has fallen open on the street at Palmiste” A LIE

      Well, here are four lies written by someone who is accusing the PM of being a liar.
      The one true statement is the travelling sister. The PM has to deal appropriately with that matter or face the consequences. The arrangement seems unacceptable or is she going to use the Manning defence on the hiring of his wife as Education minister.

  • “the brutality and abuse of power”, I feel, is the evidence that a rich country like T&T still have people scrunting, without opportunity and living in fear.

  • It is clear that the watchman was abused by the Police and the Trade Union building was damaged. I feel, however, that we must remember that there are good officers in the service and there is hope for a better Police Service.
    On another issue, I would like to see a change in the Police approach to searches. I don’t understand why they destroy people’s property and disrespect people. There should be guidelines like the following:
    1. Be courteous and respectful to people.
    2. Don’t destroy people’s property.
    3. Show your ID and show your warrant.( There are instances when they don’t)
    4. Avoid the the use of force unless it is necessary. (Self-defence )
    This suggested list can be the basis for something that is more comprehensive to guide the Police and protect citizens from abuse.

  • Crime was just a watchword for winning the hearts and minds of innocent people during the last election. Ever since they won the election there is a Romney-like approach to governing, lying when they feel the need to, flip-flopping when they want to and not acknowledging what they themselves did (ala Reshmi case). PR beats back ole talk anytime, Crime continues to go its merry own way, those who were arrested and let go during the SOE still have an opportunity to take the state to the cleaners (if they have the guts to). Who is there to tell the Mr. Bigs that they are destroying the reputation of this country when the highest ranking member of the law body (AG) actually used his office to free two criminals. I am aware that in spite of all this there are those who swear by their performance but this is a democracy and when the majority of the people feel the need for change it will happen.

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    It is one thing to state that a blogger has lied. It is another matter entirely to provide evidence to refute what was said.This woman began by swearing to the people that she would not occupy the official residence at the Diplomatic complex. Her AG swore that a piano was missin from the complex, life has gone downhill from there.

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