Public safety needs more than platitudes

Does President Ramotar believe that the laying out of 15 measures for the security sector two months before general elections will assuage the concerns of the public about safety? If he does then it reaffirms why his presidency has been so lacklustre and lacking in results.

At the police officer’s conference on Thursday, amid ever-growing doubts about the competence of the force and a day and a half after the shocking murder of Courtney Crum-Ewing, the President trotted out a list of areas that seemed hastily cobbled together from nothing in particular. Said list included among other ‘innovations’:

-Establishment of neighbourhood watch programmes to increase surveillance by residents and community members;

-Introduction of a problem oriented approach to solving crime, which will involve identifying and responding to problems in communities;

-Increase the number of police ranks on the streets and in communities;

-Address the emergency 911 call system to turn it into a true rapid response system;

-Improve the rapid response time to crimes, which the President himself said was currently the worst in the region;

-Establish directed patrols with the advent of computerised crime analysis;

-Establish a proactive arrest model;

-More covert patrols and more aggressive traffic law enforcement.

But excuse us Mr President. How many years in office does the PPP/C need to be able to have an emergency 911 system functioning properly? Did it really require 23 years for the government to craft the need for a `proactive arrest model’ whatever that is though it sounds distinctly threatening to civil liberties? And what about this intention of re-opening cold-case files “to solve unresolved crimes”. Has the entire PPP/C directorate slept through the daily reminders from civil society and the media about the unsolved murders going all the way back to Monica Reece in 1993?

For how much longer will the PPP/C and its mandarins such as Home Affairs Minister Rohee unveil plan after plan without success and without any repercussions for failure. Indeed, why is President Ramotar’s 15-point spread even necessary after the overweening old year’s day presentation on security reform by Minister Rohee in 2012?

How much longer must the public have to endure failed initiatives, master plans, the recommendations of the Disciplined Services Commission and non-functioning schemes such as the surveillance cameras network? These may have sounded like serious plans but without any intention to undertake fundamental security reforms they rise only to the level of gimmickry.

The fact remains that PPP/C governments over the last 23 years have obstinately set themselves against a broad enquiry into the police force for fear that control over the force would be lost. This intransigence is what has fuelled the eruptions of violent, unanswerable and unsolved crimes over the last 23 years. Each such failure accretes onto the one beneath creating an impregnable wall of resistance to change.

What President Ramotar should have sought inspiration from was the courageous effort by the government of fellow Caricom country, St Lucia to probe the wrongs that afflicted its police force, not dissimilar to the accusations levelled against our force over the last two decades.

Following an unprecedented crime wave in St Lucia between 2008-2010, then Prime Minister Stephenson King launched `Operation Restore Confidence’. This campaign saw allegations of extra-judicial killings and other transgressions by the police. Under international pressure and the application of the Leahy Law by the United States, St Lucia under Prime Minister Kenny Anthony moved on August 30 2014 for a comprehensive investigation of the killings over the two-year period. Through the Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) it secured a team of investigators from the Jamaican Constabulary Force.

The shocking findings of the investigative team mirrored many of the accusations that have been levelled against the local police force in the last 23 years but which have not been tested at all.

In a broadcast to the nation last week, PM Anthony, said that the report confirmed that “the blacklist or death lists” referenced by the media, human rights organizations, victim’s families and citizens during 2008-10 did exist.

More shockingly, the investigators reported that “all the shootings reviewed were ‘Fake Encounters’ staged by the Police to cloak their actions.”

Further, the weapons supposedly found on the scene of the alleged “extra judicial killings” were from sources other than the victims. The investigators determined that the weapons were “planted on the scene of the shootings.”

The investigators also stated that “a number of shootings were done by police officers and are listed on the murder statistics as being done by unknown assailants”.

The report also suggested that “the crime problem in Saint Lucia is facilitated by corrupt politicians/government officials, business persons and police officers.”

The investigators also reported that some senior officers did not co-operate with them and that the main server of the computers used by some members of the High Command of the Police Force was deliberately tampered with. According to PM Anthony, in two cases, the operating systems of the computers were changed to put the supposed incidents beyond “the timeline of [the] investigation” or probe.

The investigators also reported that what occurred during the period under review “was an environment of impunity and permissiveness designed to achieve the desired results. Willful blindness existed in respect of the Commissioner of Police and particular members of his leadership and management team.”

This was severely damning but on the positive side radiated a determination on the part of St Lucia to right the wrongs of that period.

Here in Georgetown, there has been no semblance of an investigation of the force like the one conducted by St Lucia. President Ramotar and his government are quite content to whitewash abject failure under a mishmash of plans and strategies which have not improved the ability of the police force or its standing in the eyes of the public. The most obvious manifestation of this is its patent inability to solve serious crimes. The trail in the Crum-Ewing murder has already gone cold and there is little hope that the police can find and charge the killers. Yet, in a deeply polarized society like this one, answers from the police are vitally needed to help dispel the easy resort to speculation and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, the police force under the PPP/C is unable to rise to the occasion.

Whichever government is in place after May 11th will have to again seriously address the pressing need for root and branch reform of the police force and how to regain public trust. President Ramotar’s 15-point plan is definitely not the answer. Public safety needs more than platitudes.

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