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Demming: People before bricks and mortar; why more police stations aren’t the solution

Another Police Station has been commissioned, but crime and criminality continue to dig in.  In a year or so, the people of Carenage will have an improved structure and a few policemen will benefit from promotions or transfers, but what will be the impact on crime and lawlessness in the prime minister’s constituency and indeed in the country?

The fact that he chose a police station instead of a secondary school signals to me that the prime minister’s focus is more on crime and punishment than on developing the human potential. Instead of awarding another multi-million dollar contract for the new police station the money could also have been invested in improving the training offered to the recruits to the police service.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is joined by Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Police Commissioner Gary Griffith at the Carenage Police Station Sod Turning Ceremony.
(Copyright opm.gov.tt)

It is a harsh reality that the police and the bandits are drawn from the same pool. In order to change the mindset of the police, we have to train them differently. Anything less than a three-year training programme inclusive of isolation from their communities will have little meaningful impact on changing their work ethos and ethics. Integration of police officers into their communities is absolutely beneficial, but it can only work when officers have been re-trained and understand their primary roles and responsibilities to the wider community.

The police officer of tomorrow will have to be trained to become critical thinkers skilled in communications and instilled with integrity, service and empathy. Training these values requires long-term intense exposure to achieve the human transformation that is necessary.

The Prime Minister could have also allocated our limited resources to replicating the successful Bishop Anstey High School East (BAHSE) and Trinity College East (TCE) experiment. These schools opened in 2001 as ‘model schools’ under the auspices of the Anglican Church. After 10 years in existence there is a low transfer rate out and a high parental perception that these schools are schools of choice for their children.

The replication of such model schools in the western peninsula could provide an exceptional educational experience for hundreds of young people. If you improve the quality of the educational experience of 1,000 people annually, that is 1,000 fewer people annually with the potential to turn to crime. When will we understand that developing people is more useful than bricks and mortar?

Photo: Schoolboy in class.

The Carenage police station brings to three the number of police stations being constructed in the north-west with Diamond Vale and Saint Clair under construction.  Adding a new police station will improve the person-to-police-station ratio even though our experience is that increasing the number of police stations has not reversed the scourge of crime.

There are already nine police stations in the greater Port of Spain area, roughly bounded by the Morne Coco Road, Saddle Road and Piccadilly Street, and each of them is within a two-mile (3.2km) walking distance from another station. Carenage is surrounded by the Army and Coast Guard on one end and the Four Road Police and Western Police stations and could be well served if these were effectively managed. In this ‘guava crop season’ when money is scarce, my choice would have been to invest my resources in a school for Carenage rather than build another structure which focusses on punishment and incarceration.

These are the nine police stations to which I am referring:

  • Belmont
  • Besson Street
  • Diamond Vale
  • Four Roads
  • Maraval
  • Police Headquarters
  • Saint Clair
  • Woodbrook
  • Western
Photo: Besson Street Police Station (Copyright Ministry of National Security)

This list does not even include Traffic Branch, Criminal Investigation Division and the Police Barracks. The lesson in this for me is that if we continue to focus on the bricks and mortar and not the people, the epidemic of crime and criminality will intensify.

In the short term, law-abiding citizens will continue to be ‘sitting ducks’ for the bandits while guns, drugs and murders continue to dominate the headlines. What is missing for me is any signal that there is a planned, centralized strategy aimed at changing the way we do things.

Our future will only be different if we change the present and that requires the articulation and communication of the strategy for change. The current method of repeating past strategies will not have any impact. When our focus moves from bricks and mortar to behaviour change, our society will change.

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming is an Adjunct Faculty Member at UWI, Media and Communications Strategist, TEDxPOS organiser and co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain and Chairman of the Board at TTTHTI. Dennise, who grew up in East POS, also has a Business MBA and B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and Mass Communications from UWI.

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3 comments

  1. I beg to disagree, no to a new school but yes to the training and retraining of the police, especially those that will be resident at the new police station. I use to be a resident of Carenage and for anyone who has lived in Carenage, living in that area is a unique experience.

    Why unique? Because it brings together a group of diverse communities living apart but showing respect for each other. There are many well-to-do communities in the peninsula, there is also a Black Muslim commune, a Chinese community as well as many familial communities in and around the Big yard area.

    In my time there was limited commingling of these communities except for maybe St Peter’s Day. I do not know how well this occasion is celebrated now but from limited reports participation is by a few communities.

    I think one of the points you missed is the location of Carenage. In my time of residency there were a number of reports of nefarious activities taking place in Carenage because of its proximity to the Gulf. In fact, at one time there was the famous or infamous Monos island drug bust. There was a belief that the fishermen in that area were dealing in many things other than fish. I cannot confirm or deny but I do know close to my residence there was a well known drug block that in part led to the demise of one of my relatives.

    The police station in Carenage is not new, it existed for many years and if memory serves me right, the old building was in a very bad state of disrepair. I welcome the new police station and I hope that this police station will serve as the command center for the maritime police group that is to be re-introduced.

    I remember the PM suggesting that there could be fish fry nights in the new market building, this is what some residents should avail themselves of, I am looking forward to a visit in the very near future. So I am in support of the police station instead of a school. I believe that the police assigned would require upgraded skills to deal with the maritime “invasion” as well as the ability to positively interact with the various communities.

    I conclude by saying that some of the best footballers and All Fours players reside or had their genesis in Carenage.

    • Governance means choices. Other countries are making positive strides because they have changed their approach from punishment to facilitating behaviour change. If our eyes are on the future, a school will bring us more future benefits than another Police Station. Here are some interesting statistics; New York City has 77 police precincts to 8.5 million people, Trinidad and Tobago has 78 police stations to 1.3 million people. What accounts for this significant difference?

      • I do not think we are comparing like with like. The efficient use of technology as well as the ease of commuting in NY, I think, played a major part in the number of precincts in NY. The organization of the Police Service in T&T is pathetic. Just recently the CoP noted that he would like to have more police on the road instead of having them in the police station. I have visited a few police stations in Maryland and I am perplexed by the few police that manage these stations. In concluding I thought you would have commented on my statement that the Carenage station was probably maintained because of its location relative to the western peninsula and its proximity to the Gulf, among other factors.