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Anti-crime action must build confidence

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The latest ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre poll puts hard numbers to the general sense of concern about the government’s response to criminal activity. The poll, conducted between February 03 and 06 missed the prevailing plunge in public confidence in the protective services occasioned by the shocking kidnapping and murder, if the most recent autopsy results hold true, of eight-year-old Daniel Guerra. To be fair, the crime situation facing the nation today was more than a decade in the making and it’s not as if there has been a lack of activity on the anti-crime front. But citizens have grown weary of massaged statistics and bold promises and need to hear less talk and see more action pressed into action as real world crime responses.

Just over half of the respondents dismissed the People’s Partnership Government’s handling of crime to date as poor and a further 30 plus per cent were willing to give them only a fair grade. The remainder, roughly 20 per cent, gave a good rating. These results are not substantially different from the ratings earned by the predecessor government, and the Minister of National Security must acknowledge that not only are the new government’s prevention efforts having little impact on crime, they are also widely perceived to be ineffectual. Also enjoying a brutal drop in support is newly appointed Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs who earned just 30 per cent of the vote of confidence in his capacity to make a difference in his post, while 51 per cent of respondents were resigned to his administration being business as usual.

It’s fair to acknowledge that CoP Gibbs has been in office for just six months and has faced at least two daunting tasks, coming to terms with the unique twists and turns of local culture and the challenges of motivating his officers. It would be churlish, then, to note that a cost-benefit analysis of his contribution so far, even to the public relations image of the Police Service, doesn’t look particularly good. But statistics and public perception aren’t the most critical things the new CoP is in office to manage. He must bring real and perceivable change to a Police Service long regarded as hamstrung by some less-than-exemplary officers, outright corruption and poor management of limited resources. Turning that situation around has challenged and stumped every holder of the CoP’s office since the turn of the century, and the expectations that the public is entitled to have of the qualified presence of the Canadian appointee to the job are commensurately high indeed.

The dissolution of Sautt and the SIA declared a pointed end to the national security strategies of the PNM, but almost a year into the tenure of the new government there has been no clear indication of what will replace these efforts at modernising the capacity of the Police Service to gather intelligence, analyse it and act decisively in interdicting crime in Trinidad and Tobago. The Minister of National Security should take no solace in the slight decline in murders, currently holding at 67 and down from 72 for the year so far.

Much of the leadership cadre of the Police Service has changed in the last couple of years, but the modus operandi of police management appears to remain essentially the same. While it’s clear that there is much to be done in managing crime, Commissioner of Police Gibbs must step up his game and make a greater effort to leverage his experience and leadership position to change the culture of the Police Service, beginning with his direct reports. This is clearly a steep hill to climb, and while the CoP’s presence at police funerals and on the frontlines of investigations play well for the media, his efforts within his corps to improve the management and effectiveness of the police service will pay greater dividends than his well-meaning efforts to be a visibly compassionate leader.


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