By Garth A. Rattray
I usually have my cellphone off during working hours because the plethora of calls, emails (from two email addresses), WhatsApp messages, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) messages and text messages are far too distracting and time-consuming for me to get anything done.
However, on the morning of Monday, November 12, 2012, I was charging the device and it was accidentally left on. I heard various messages coming in but ignored them until I heard a rapid influx of BBM messages arriving. I wondered what could be so important to warrant this flurry. Quite often people broadcast emergency situations in order to warn of dangerous or bad road conditions, criminal activities, to save lives, to find lost children and/or adults or to recover stolen motor vehicles.
The urgency and rapidity of the BBM messages from various contacts made me expect a broadcast message pleading for help - assistance for a stolen vehicle or help in finding a missing loved one or something aimed at thwarting criminality.
I was therefore surprised when I saw this: "Transport authorities and about 100 police, along with examiners and 'warrant officers', on ferry nearer to six miles if u vehicle not straight please don't drive there. Oh, and wreckers too. Government seriously need revenues. Please repost to help someone in this challenging time please."
This was not the first such broadcast that I have received. Obviously, the person from whom the message originated and those rebroadcasting it are not criminals nor was there a conscious intent to assist criminals. But, I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that the broadcast allowed motorists with defective vehicles - some deemed dangerously defective, and illegal vehicles - some unlicensed, some uninsured, some stolen and most of all, some transporting criminals and contraband like drugs and/or weapons to circumvent the police operation staged to protect our lives, properties and freedom.
I have reliable reports from road users that alternate routes were jam-packed with traffic bent on avoiding the police. In spite of that, the special operation, commanded by Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of Traffic, Radcliffe Lewis, along with a team of 55 personnel (members of the Transport Authority, Narcotics and Canine Divisions, Flying Squad, Mobile Reserve, Island Traffic Authority and Island Special Constabulary Force) confiscated a 9mm Glock pistol, 42 9mm rounds and two magazines. They also seized two pounds of ganja from a public passenger vehicle.
They executed 13 warrants (persons arrested for failing to attend court after committing serious criminal acts) and seized eight vehicles for breaches of the Road Traffic Act. Certifying examiners removed 48 pairs of registration plates from defective vehicles and eight persons were arrested for various offences, including two persons who had failed to honour bail commitments.
I have 229 BBM contacts; many young people have more. That broadcast must have gone 'viral'. I therefore wonder how many more defective vehicles would have been taken off the road, how much illegal drugs would have been confiscated, how many more criminals would have been apprehended, how many more guns and bullets would have been recovered and, therefore, how many more lives would have been saved if that broadcast were not sent out and rebroadcast.
There are lessons to be learnt on both sides. The recent government amnesty programme, and those members of the constabulary who still extort money from road users, give the citizenry the impression that traffic stops and tickets are all about money. However, the public needs to remember that police operations are designed to thwart criminality and keep us safe. People can't be asking for help when thieves make them victims, then turn around and warn the same thieves of police check points. It's self-defeating.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.