Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Where have all the police gone?

Published:Saturday | April 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMTony Deyal

Throughout the world, armed forces are divided into squads, brigades and platoons. In Trinidad and Tobago, however, they are divided into parties. Almost every day, the media blazon forth the exploits of various 'parties' of policemen who invariably 'swoop down' on criminals. Perhaps the reason that it is almost impossible to find a policeman when you want one, or to see one where a police presence is desperately needed, is the fact that the police are party people.

It is the same in Barbados and Jamaica. It is impossible to find a policeman in the night or on a weekend. They all seem to be in the stations, behind locked doors, possibly involved in sorting out their various parties.

In the day, while they are more visible, they are perhaps so busy recovering from the parties of the night before that they flit by without ever staying too long at any one place except when they decide to hold the public to ransom through roadblocks intended as a show of bargaining power.

In Marabella, in south Trinidad, where I once lived, there was a constant and continuous traffic problem exacerbated every weekend by the presence of a thriving market. Very close to the market was the police station, its yard full of vehicles in various states of disrepair. Next to it, at every intersection, were people selling newspapers, most likely featuring the exploits of various parties of policemen, headed by ambitious officers.

There was never a policeman in sight, except those who ventured forth in vehicles looking for a free breakfast, lunch or handout. Next door, in the town of Gasparillo, the one street hosted a major traffic jam every morning and evening. In spite of the jam, not a single policeman, far less a party, was ever visible. This phenomenon was repeated throughout the country and most of the Caribbean.

understaffed and overworked 

There is a story about a man who was walking through a street in Port-of-Spain when a young lady came running up to him: "Are there any policemen around here?" He replied, "You must be joking. You can never find one around here at all." She pulled out a gun and said, "All right then, hand over all your money."

One view regarding the lack of a police presence or the absence of support at times and in areas where it is badly needed is that the police forces are understaffed and overworked. I remember when the traffic ticket system was introduced in Trinidad and Tobago as a measure to free the police from having to spend all day in court. The system is still here: Parties of policemen continue to conduct raids of various sorts, and the traffic flows like Jello.

Research in some American cities shows that reducing the size of the police force actually causes a reduction in crime. Citizens take a more active role in safeguarding themselves and their property. This is consistent with the dictum of Solon, the Greek legislator and statesman (639-559 BC), who, when asked what measures could be taken to eliminate law-breaking and crime, replied, "Wrongdoing can only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation as those who are."

While citizens must become more involved in their own protection, the police must also reconsider their role in society. In Britain, a bumper sticker suggested, 'Help eliminate police violence - beat yourself up.'

George, who had been working as a packer in a supermarket after leaving elementary school, was inducted into the police force and completed basic training at the barracks. On his first day in uniform, he went back to the supermarket where he used to work. "Look who come to see us," his former colleagues said. "Constable George." "How do you like your new job?" one of them asked.

"Well," said George, "the hours are long and not as good as they were here. The job is dangerous. But one thing I love is that the customer is always wrong."

The police must also see their duty and relations with the public as more than a nuisance. Some banks have alarms that ring at the police station. In one case, a gunman poked a pistol through a teller's window and demanded all the cash in the bank. The teller pressed the alarm pedal with her foot. Her telephone rang and the gunman grabbed it, only to hear an annoyed voice on the other end, saying, "This is the police station. Take your foot off that pedal because it is causing the alarm to ring over here and is disturbing all of us with the noise."

Additionally, the police must be better educated. There are too many instances where their handling of cases, as well as themselves, in the courts has caused criminals to walk free. While some of this might be intentional, much of it is because our recruitment standards and performance criteria are too low.

In one case, a policeman told the magistrate, "This woman came up to me and tried to pass off this fake American hundred-dollar bill." "Counterfeit?" asked the magistrate. "Yes, sir, she had two."

- Tony Deyal was last seen enjoying a British joke. Police arrested two kids yesterday. One was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off.