In the face of rampant violent crime, last week’s column asserted that it is wholly insufficient to believe, as the Government does, that we could merely rely on the Police Service as currently managed.
On that same day, there was a forceful editorial in the Sunday Express newspaper which I had barely finished digesting, when my attention was drawn to the remarks made by the Acting Commissioner of Police, Mr Stephen Williams—in another newspaper—reportedly at an event relating to Police Youth Clubs.
Williams had apparently repeated his mantra that the main cause of crime was the failure of parenting and family life. Such failure is a cause, but one can dispute whether that failure is the main cause given our current slack policing environment and the absence of a coherent social development policy.
As if to sanctify police slackness, Williams then declared that “we cannot arrest ourselves out of rising crime. The more you arrest the more criminals come forward to be arrested.”
This is an entirely foolish statement. The rest of Williams’ remarks—set out below—implicitly acknowledge the prolonged and notoriously low detection rate of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. It follows therefore the police will not in fact arrest significant numbers of persons out of crime as his grand charge suggests.
It is simply nonsense to propose comparing the known numbers of crime with the completely unknown, undiscoverable and unverifiable numbers of crime, which the police are claiming to have prevented. It is embarrassing to have to point this out.
I am still pinching myself at the rest of the remarks. Williams is quoted as follows: “Everybody speaks about the Police Services’ detection rate so the more offences we detect means we are performing better—for me that does not make much sense.”
Could even someone as hapless as Williams have seriously asserted that police success was better gauged by how much crime the police claim to prevent rather than by reference to the current pitiful detection rate?
This statement is a significant repudiation of the duty for the performance of which we pay the police. Perhaps the coveted rank of Detective will be abolished.
It is fundamental to the maintenance of a civilised society that the police service should regard catching wrongdoers as the highest of priorities. It is also a plainly offensive statement.
It must be devastating news to the victims of violent crime that the justice to which they all appeal in their moments of grief is not a priority and that pursuit of a high detection rate “does not make much sense.”
Regarding Williams’ utterances I may now exceed the constraining lines of the Carmona/Stollmeyer doctrine regarding “acceptable” criticism when I say that Williams is a real clown, being one for whom the ridiculous becomes normal.
The doctrines on the limits of acceptable criticism are those of President of the Republic, President Anthony Carmona, and retired Justice Humphrey Stollmeyer. They were recently patched together in a press release issued by the office of the President.
The ostensible purpose of the release was to inform the public why retired Justice Stollmeyer had resigned from the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. But it gave the President, who has not responded well to criticism, a manufactured opportunity to tout his desire to restrain or control criticism.
Remember his threat to sue comedienne Rachael Price?
However Williams’ logic could safely be described as “rum shop logic” because that ungracious phrase—along with another, “donkey cart interpretation”—which could be applied to the acting CoP’s understanding of police work, have received official licence.
The core of last Sunday’s forceful editorial, mentioned earlier, was this: Public officials seeking to confine criticism to forms of expression that they adjudge permissible have missed:
“The very real value of much of the public input in major issues of the day. More than any institution, it is public opinion that has been rising to the country’s defence in the midst of collapsing institutions and in the absence of political leadership.
“One simply has to imagine how much worse off Trinidad and Tobago would be if public opinion and civil society did not step up to the responsibility of holding public offices and office-holders to account.”
For over a decade this column has tried to hold various officeholders to account for the rise of violent crime. When I refer to the deficiency of police as currently managed, I have in mind more than failed individual managers like Stephen Williams.
The failings of the Service Commissions have also made the ridiculous become normal—for example, disciplinary proceedings that lead to nowhere other than to suspension with full pay, which provide the free time to take another job or qualify for another career.
Urgent policy interventions are required in order to restore balanced and effective governance and objective justice. Without these we will continue to ridicule ourselves.