UWI study: Ethnic imbalance in T&T Police Service spans decades

(Trinidad Express) The ethnic imbalance within the upper echelons of the Police Service, that favours Afro-Trinidadians, was pushed centre stage by Police Service Commission chairman Nizam Mohammed two Fridays ago at a Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting at the Parliament, when he stated his intention to fix the disparity. But this is not the first time this issue has been raised.

A 1994 report entitled “Ethnicity and Employment Practices in Trinidad and Tobago” Volume I—(The Public Sector) compiled by the Centre for Ethnic Studies, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, gives insight into the very controversial issue by looking at the ethnic composition of the Public Services, including the Police Service, and the differences in the rate of mobility for each ethnic group over three decades.

Obtained from the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), UWI, St Augustine, this report is the first survey that was compiled on the issue and looks candidly at the employment practices in the Public Sector as it relates to Afro and Indo Trinidadians.

Dr John La Guerre, now chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, was the Centre co-ordinator at the time and held the responsibility for the direction of the survey and its analysis.

The analysis is seen within the executive summary and recommendations section of the 328 page report where it is noted that the Police Service was one of two areas, the other being nursing, where appointments were shrouded in ethnic controversy.

Part IV of the report, looks at the “National Security Services” data from the Public Service for the years 1970, 1980 and 1992 and attempts to determine whether the hiring and promotional practices gave equal opportunity to all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity, and whether there were any changes in the ethnic make-up of those hired over that time span.

In the report this is described as a difficult task, since records had been lost or destroyed in the Police Headquarters in the 1990 attempted coup, but the Centre managed to put together a “fairly complete statistical overview”.

The figures obtained showed that in 1970 of a total of 149 sergeants only six were Indo-Trinidadian and out of a total of 274 police officers only nine were Indo-Trinidadian. This was despite the fact that “for the rank of sergeant and higher the Indo-Trinidadians tended to be younger than their Afro-Trinidadian counterparts with the exception of the sole Indo-Trinidadian Assistant Superintendent of Police”, the report stated.

Ten years later, only 22 of the 244 sergeants were Indo-Trinidadian; there was only one Indo-Trinidadian who held the rank of Assistant Superintendent out of 47; there were nine Assistant Commissioners of police of which only one was Indo-Trinidadian and out of a total of 1,282 police officers only 180 of them represented the Indo-Trinidadian population.

The report states that by 1980 the population percentage of Indo Trinidadians had grown to 40.7.

“Given equal representation, the expected ratio in the police force in 1980 is 40.7. Indo-Trinidadians at this time were grossly under represented in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service,” the report states.

By 1992, the strength of the Police Service had more than doubled and there was an increase in the intake of Indo-Trinidadians, yet the number of Indo-Trinidadians represented still remained less than their Afro-Trinidadian counterparts.

Out of a total of 4,672 police officers only 1,153 were Indo-Trinidadian, there were 43 sergeants out of a total of 282, and six of the 47 Assistant Superintendents were Indo-Trinidadian.

“Apparent discrepancies between policy and fact are readily observable on looking at recruitment figures. The declared policy in the selection process for police officers is based on qualifications, both physical and academic, as well as character. However, the records of recruitment over the past 13 years, for both male and female applicants, reveal that Afro-Trinidadian applicants have an advantage of 1.5 to 2 over their Indo-Trinidadian counterparts.”

However, the report said there may have been another factor that influenced the low number of Indo-Trinidadian females applying for the Police Service.

“It was felt, and possibly still is felt, that the Police Service was not a suitable place of work for an Indo-Trinidadian female.”

Although in 1992 to 1993 more Indo-Trinidadian women put in applications only two of the 40 women recruited into the Police Service were Indo-Trinidadian.

“All things being equal, and given the fact that Indo-Trinidadian candidates are generally better qualified academically, it should follow that the number of Indo-Trinidadians selected for training should be higher. It seems that they tend to do less well in the interview than do their Afro-Trinidadian counterparts,” the report states.

This phenomenon was explained as having resulted from the fact that at that time the members of the interviewing panel were all Afro-Trinidadians themselves.

Looking at promotion within the Police Service, the then chairman of the Police Service Commission who was interviewed for the report was recorded as having indicated that promotion within the Police Service was based on merit and creditability in performance.

“Regulation 20 of the Police Service Commission regulations states that eligibility for promotion takes into account inter alia, seniority, experience, educational qualifications, merit and ability together with the relative efficiency of all officers.”

However, aspects of the promotional process were seen as less than transparent and left room for dishonesty and discriminatory practices, the report states.

It states that “one of the major findings of the investigation was the tendency for Indians to be heavily under represented at the higher reaches of the public sector, particularly in the central public services” there was no doubt that historical and cultural factors would explain an ethnic imbalance.

“In Trinidad and Tobago, over the years, a peculiar division of labour had developed according to which the Indians were allocated to the agricultural sector, the Whites to the higher reaches of the economy and the Africans to the public services of the country. With time these ideas hardened into conceptions of preserves.

“It’s persistence into the present is, however, also due to the operation of the seniority principle and the possible influence of the political will in appointment beyond a certain range,” the report states.

So although “the perception of discrimination did exist, were felt strongly, and materially affected the dedication and productivity of a number of the officers from both major ethnic groups” in the end many of the cases of racial discrimination that were raised could not be substantiated with the available evidence.

“It was found that in a number of cases, what was perceived as ‘racial discrimination’ was in fact the end result of a number of factors such as patronage, family network or membership of a clique,” the report states.

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