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Dear Editor: Do tougher measures work? TTPS should not be judge, jury and executioner

“The heart of criminal law is the degree of protection afforded to the accused… The Police cannot be judge, jury and executioner.

“[…] It is seductive in its logical simplicity but the idea that criminals are persuaded by ill treatment, stiff sentences or police killings is a middle-class delusion. It is the opposite.”

In the following Letter to the Editor, Noble Phillip of Blue Range warns the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) against trying to shoot its way out of a crime spree:

Photo: A body with a toe-tag.

“Do tougher measures work?”

Crime, and our fear of it, is our number one societal problem. Police conduct, tactics and attitudes result from this pressure.

‘Hard line’ policing is viewed through the lens of ‘threats’ causing a blurring of the line between criminality, terrorism and protests and increasing militarisation of the police service.

This connects the treatment of the UWI students and the killing of the five Laventille men: it is not the actions of rogue police but a deliberate attempt to intimidate. The ‘enemy’ of public interests justifies the brutality.

The presence of video evidence at UWI changed the public posturing. Without Marcia Henville’s videos, Laventille will remain the primary target.

The book, “Waiting for the Barbarians” (JM Coetzee) shows us the method: ‘pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt’.

We do not countenance the possibility of innocence as we release the beast which lurks within us. We misrepresent the projected 2018 murder rate! We ignore the US Assistant Secretary of State, William Brownfield’s 2014 declaration that Dana Seetahal’s assassination was ‘a well planned and orchestrated hit’ by ‘an international criminal organisation’ while we kill petty criminals as proof of action.

Photo: A Woodbrook tribute to murdered prominent Trinidad and Tobago attorney Dana Seetahal SC.
Seetahal was gunned down in the wee hours of Sunday 4 May 2014.

Men, engaged in organised crime, are the ones warring against us.

Society has changed, there is a reduction in respect for authority on many fronts. Self-discipline is no longer enforced by religious teaching. Suspicions about the Police are not new.

When we look at their behaviour at UWI, the question must be asked ‘if this brutality can happen once, how can we be sure that it is not happening all the time?’

If the prompt for police action is obscure but blame is cast on the individual, then how safe is any of us? If we do not have the resources of the Law Faculty at our disposal in court, then what becomes of us?

The source of police power is the need for authority, but we must guard against abuse. The heart of criminal law is the degree of protection afforded to the accused.

The innocent must be freed and the guilty punished. Guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The Police cannot be judge, jury and executioner. We must respect our Police even if we do not love the enforcement.

Does tougher, more aggressive measures help? It is seductive in its logical simplicity but the idea that criminals are persuaded by ill treatment, stiff sentences or police killings is a middle-class delusion. It is the opposite.

Photo: A thug shows off his gun in Trinidad.

It also creates unfavourable police-community relationships, reducing cooperation. As Gary Griffith learnt in his ministerial stint to his dismay, it spreads the cancer to other communities as criminals migrate. Rapid response units’ success depends on civilian cooperation which is compromised by poor relations.

We want a society where we do not even have to protest. We want to counter crime, so we need systematic analysis.

The character of crime will change if we raise the level of economic, political and cultural achievement of our poorest people. Keith Smith and the Laventille Rhythm Section showed us.

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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  1. “When we look at their behaviour at UWI, the question must be asked ‘if this brutality can happen once, how can we be sure that it is not happening all the time?’”

    Why didn’t the writer make mention of the disrespect meted out to the police officers? Was that acceptable? The blatant lack of respect the citizens have for authority in TT is nothing short of amazing and they have been allowed to get away with it. It is now the unacceptable norm.