“… Because of his effective use of social media, [Gary Griffith] has received soaring popularity with some members of the public.
“But is this popularity connected to results he has achieved, or is it based merely on optics? Specifically, has there been a significant decline in homicides or an increase in the crime detection rate during the current CoP’s watch? Is Trinidad and Tobago safer than it was a year ago? The answer is an emphatic no.”
The following Letter to the Editor grades the performance of commissioner of police, Gary Griffith, after one year in office. It was submitted to Wired868 by Malcolm Jack, a former member of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service:
When Gary Griffith became commissioner of police (CoP) on 17 August 2018, he accomplished a few remarkable achievements that inspired a new wave of hope and confidence among the population of Trinidad and Tobago. But, one year later, when it comes to reducing homicides and increasing crime detection, the CoP has failed to live up to expectations.
Early in his tenure, there were a few drug and weapons busts. There were also a couple of kidnap victims who were rescued within a relatively short period of time.
Additionally, there were some commendable initiatives such as restructuring the lines of reporting within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), initiating an audit of the overtime worked by police officers, and making the public aware that any police officer, in or out of uniform, who refused to present her/his police ID card when requested by a member of the public could be reported.
One novel and interesting approach to policing adopted by the new CoP was the widespread use of public relations machinery, including extensive use of social media, to disseminate and highlight information to manage the public’s perception of him. Because of his effective use of social media, he has received soaring popularity with some members of the public.
But is this popularity connected to results he has achieved, or is it based merely on optics? Specifically, has there been a significant decline in homicides or an increase in the crime detection rate during the current CoP’s watch? Is Trinidad and Tobago safer than it was a year ago? The answer is an emphatic no.
Based on the statistical crime data on the TTPS’ website, Griffith gets a C grade. The data demonstrates that he has underperformed when compared to the previous CoP, Stephen Williams. The homicide and crime detection rates are being used as benchmarks for this grading since these are the areas the public expected the CoP to make the greatest impact during the year. In fairness to the CoP, the data for the first four months of his tenure was not considered for this article since he was new to heading a law enforcement agency, and the data is not exactly glowing.
The total number of homicides for the first eight months of 2019 equaled that for the corresponding eight-month period in 2018. Realistically, police officers cannot anticipate and prevent every homicide, nor can the public expect a dramatic reduction in homicides overnight just because there is a new CoP. But, had he been a game-changer, at least the number of homicides for the first eight months of 2019 should have been closer to 2017 rather than 2018 levels.
The crime detection rate under the current CoP has been consistently and abysmally lower than that of the previous CoP for January through July. The crime detection rate is the percentage of reported crimes that have been detected based on police investigations. Crime detection falls into three phases: (1) when a report is made by a victim, (2) the identification of a suspect, and (3) the collection of sufficient evidence to bring the suspect(s) before a court of law.
A high detection rate indicates that more criminal offenders have been arrested, charged and brought before the court to face the consequences of their criminal acts. Conversely, a low detection rate indicates more offenders are on the streets and are yet to be arrested and charged.
Based on the statistical crime data on the TTPS’ website for January through July 2019, the crime detection rate under Griffith’s leadership has been, on average, 11 percentage points lower than that of Stephen Williams’ for the corresponding seven-month period in 2018. As such, the CoP has failed to increase the crime detection rate over the levels that existed prior to his appointment.
On 31 August 2018, at a post-Independence Day function, the CoP gave himself a deadline for success: “I would like to reveal a birthday gift to the nation. I give to you today that one year from now, by God’s grace and will, by our 57th anniversary, the Police Service will be a more efficient and effective service.”
In the meantime, the members of the public who have not allowed themselves to be easily impressed by the PR and hype are still waiting for the introduction of the 72-point policing plan that the CoP touted prior to his appointment.
Now that we can imagine more confident criminals on the streets due to a reduced crime detection rate, and we are aware that the number of homicides has remained the same year-over-year, we all need to ask ourselves: are taxpayers receiving value for their money?
In view of the heightened false sense of comfort expressed by some members of the public and business community, does having a well-oiled PR machine and social media support system managing public perception equate to performance?