Regional police leadership
A ruffling of the leaderships of the police forces in the Caricom area has been going on for some time, and the changes last week at the top of the police force of Trinidad & Tobago have served to remind us of this. We are well aware of the controversy surrounding our Commissioner of Police and his eventual departure from the leadership of the Force here.
Now, in the face of virtually continuous contention about their actions since they were brought in from Canada to assume the leadership of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Force on the basis of high commendation, Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs and Deputy Commissioner Jack Ewatski of the Trinidad police force have given up their leadership posts there. The two men, brought in to deal with an ever-increasing crime situation in Trinidad & Tobago that was giving rise to a substantial public outcry, have proved no less acceptable to the political leadership of the country than their predecessors. And no doubt, the political leadership has been taking its lead from public sentiment.
Prior to these changes, there have been some others in the region. In Jamaica, a few years ago, an effort to bring into the leadership of the Jamaican force a former Chief of Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force proved unsatisfactory also. However, sooner rather than later, the appointee, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin felt it necessary to throw in the towel, after strong suggestions of a loss of confidence in his work by the then Jamaican Prime Minsiter.
For a little while, on her assumption of office, and in response to popular outrage about the crime situation in Trinidad & Tobago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar tried a variant of the Jamaican approach. She appointed a former army officer, Brigadier John Sandy, as Minister of National Security, following a popular belief that somehow, army men are more capable of dealing with hardened criminals than individuals socialized in the police force, and indeed more subject in their behaviour to the rule of law. But not too long ago, the Prime Minister felt it necessary to remove Sandy and offer him a diplomatic posting, his replacement being the politically powerful Jack Warner of FIFA fame.
There are many in Trinidad who felt that Warner was not the most appropriate person to head a Ministry of National Security, but no doubt, the Prime Minister felt that with his reputation as an ‘action man,‘ an influential welder of the Peoples Partnership coalition, and a significant framer of its victorious electoral strategy, his presence in the post could assuage public sentiment about the rising crime in the country.
In turn, Warner has quickly moved to respond to an increasingly loudly espoused view that the experiment with the alleged experts from Canada was looking like a failure, and he began to make statements that more or less suggested that the two Canadians should take the hint and depart. They have, and now a local senior member of the police force has been appointed to act in the position of Commissioner of Police.
The government is obviously playing for time, and in any case, since Warner’s assumption of the ministry, he has once again found himself embroiled in now well-known allegations of various kinds pertaining to his leadership of CONCACAF. Questions are now being asked as to whether he is an appropriate cat to catch the mice. The situation there, though not similar, is not unlike that in Jamaica during the Dudus affair, when it was increasingly felt that the involvement of the political leadership in contentions relating to personal legal issues, disqualified them from making objective judgements about the functioning of the police force.
In Trinidad, the obvious dominance of Minister Warner in arrangements relating to the force seemed to have been illustrated by his use of the military, soon after his assumption of ministerial duties, to remove protesters from state land. His stout insistence that he had a proper legal basis for acting does not seem to have been particularly persuasive, and brought into contention the legitimacy of his actions. Public sentiment being what it is, it has connected his actions to the wider dispute relating to his role vis-à-vis FIFA. And suspicion has increased, as there has been a belief, in spite of the protestations of the departed Commissioner and his Deputy, that the two men have been forced out.
So, in other countries in recent times, in Trinidad the status of the Police Force, and its ability to function in the present crime-ridden atmosphere, have been brought into question. As in other countries too, the decisions of the political directorate have come under question, given that the dismissals of the leadership of the force have been simultaneous with a rise in the crime level, and a seeming inability of the disciplined forces to deal with the situation.
In this scenario, what is also being questioned is the role of the Police Services Commission, headed in Trinidad by a distinguished criminologist and former university academic, Professor Ramesh Deosaran. For it would appear to onlookers that the work of the commision is hardly being given cognizance, as the political directorate panic in response to public concern about widespread criminality, and in particular a dramatic rise in the murder rate.
Citizens in other Caricom states well recognize this phenomenon. In Trinidad there is widespread cynicism as to whether the government has a plan that is any better than that which the Canadians had to offer when they were so heartily welcomed two years ago. That the government has seemed pleased to see the backs of the Canadians, is likely to increase such cynicism. And in that context the wider leadership of the Force must be wondering about what actions will be taken next, if the situation does not soon improve under the current acting leadership.