“Being poor or even living in Laventille does not cause one to engage in crime or any other behaviour, but they make certain lines of conduct easier or more difficult. When poverty or unemployment is treated within the context of strong families and an active socialising church, crime and vandalism are likely to remain low.
“But families are being weakened and we are yet to find a replacement for the church or mandir in the shaping of lives. We then throw the job of social control onto the TTPS, which is not equipped for this type of work.
“When faced with this challenge, it is important for us to remember that ‘Zero tolerance’ blustery overreaction can exacerbate the situation…”
The following Letter to the Editor on Trinidad and Tobago’s response to its crime problem was submitted by Noble Phillip of Blue Range:
No police strategy, by itself, can return crime to the levels we had in the mid-70s.
Yet we long for the ability to conduct our affairs in public without great anxiety; and we wish that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) will protect us from the criminal elements and from unbearable ruffians. How can this be achieved?
Since the mid-70s, our society has changed from one that was community based (“all ah we is one”) to one where our individual objectives are priority (“devil take the hindmost”). We retreated to a place of exclusion, averting our eyes from human suffering on the pretext that such persons are lazy, deserving of their lot in life.
The last two decades have created distance between us, predicated on wealth. Simultaneously, there has been a decline in acceptance of personal responsibility and a rise in victimhood as we pursue material goals, rejecting our communal past.
Being poor or even living in Laventille does not cause one to engage in crime or any other behaviour, but they make certain lines of conduct easier or more difficult. When poverty or unemployment is treated within the context of strong families and an active socialising church, crime and vandalism are likely to remain low.
But families are being weakened and we are yet to find a replacement for the church or mandir in the shaping of lives. We then throw the job of social control onto the TTPS, which is not equipped for this type of work.
When faced with this challenge, it is important for us to remember that “zero tolerance” blustery overreaction can exacerbate the situation. One type of response does not fit all circumstances.
Lord Scarman, in his 1981 Brixton Riots report, said, ‘the act of suiting action to…circumstances… is the policeman’s daily trade’.
The lower reporting rates by residents in crime-ridden areas reflect their lack of confidence in the police, not complicity with criminals. By putting pressure on the police to achieve ‘results’, we increase the potential to falsify evidence and increase corruption.
‘Killing criminals’, as part of policing, compromises organisational values of honesty and integrity and damages their own quality of life. Policing should aim ‘to reduce crime, disorder and fear’. That there is a hardened core is indisputable; but the response to them ought not to guide the response to all others.
In a 2010 UNDP survey, we were more afraid of crime than our Jamaican peers and 70% of us believed that the justice system was corrupt. That perception was driven by corrupt senior officials, bribe taking and the involvement of some in crime.
Magically, we now expect our police to be above board in extra-judicial killings, giving evidence and recording crime. The recent significant drug find at the Prisons is a sobering context.
David Rudder’s ‘Madman Rant’ is appropriate here: “somebody clean out the weed well fast… somebody letting the cocaine pass.”
To rage against reasoned inquiry is not confidence inducing. We ought not to compromise the role of the Police Complaints Authority, it preserves our confidence in the Police Service.
Tackling the drug trade is crucial. It is cloaked in violence, normalises illegal behaviour and encourages availability of firearms. We need better ballistics training and problem diagnostics to increase the odds of conviction. If we do not have convictions, the criminals is obliged to ignore our ‘gun talk’.
We need more foot patrols—not mobile ones—using firm and effective discretion. Foot patrols enable the building of community relationships and facilitate the gathering of intelligence within the community. Unfair treatment, perceived or real, cuts that connection.
As our straitened economic circumstances bite, tensions will rise and only a spark will be needed to ignite serious disorder. But our Greenvale experience shows us we can take hold of the fate of our community. We can help each other, jointly confronting the powers-that-be who fall down on the job we gave them.
The choice is ours.