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Seize the opportunity

Published:Monday | February 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Garth Rattray

I have known Acting Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington for many years and have consistently found him to be a professional, dutiful, bright, level-headed and exemplary policeman. I am especially pleased with his impending appointment as commissioner of police because I have always felt that the constabulary should be led by one of its own. Importing non-constabulary individuals (unaccustomed to police methodology and protocols) to lead the force discounts decades of police training and work and demoralises the entire Constabulary.

A significant minority join the Constabulary as professionals serving specific needs within the organisation. Many individuals enlist because they like being given the opportunity to improve our ailing society. Others join the force as a 'default' profession because they can't secure any other viable means of income. A very few individuals join the Constabulary because of the authority, power, potential financial rewards from illicit activities and real or perceived immunity that it endows. Unfortunately, one or two 'plants' try to enlist, or perhaps are successful in enlisting in the Constabulary, to provide an 'inside man' for criminal entities.

Obscured lines

Many police recruits come from working-class and even poor communities, some of them are so influenced by or impacted by varying degrees of crime that the line between right and wrong becomes obscure and, arguably, variable. However, in spite of their individual pre-existing mindset, all recruits start out on a level playing field.

The Police Academy goes to great lengths to properly train and imbue recruits with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be a good policeman or woman - attributes desired by society. Unfortunately, usually sometime within the first year after graduation; rookies are not properly supervised and/or fall under the influence of rogue cops who manage to convince impressionable newcomers that their lives are worth more than the risks they take for the salaries provided.

The paucity of substantial moral fibre, pressure from immediate (unofficial) supervisors, peer pressure and financial pressures eventually turn some vulnerable cops to the dark side of the force.

The power entrusted to such individuals makes them some of the most dangerous people in our society and severely undermines the hard work put in by their honest and hard-working colleagues.

The government's search for sources of revenue, stubborn adherence to antiquated means of punishing and dissuading certain offences, along with unwieldy systems of compliance for necessary civic duties, provide the perfect incentive for many officials (including cops) to become corrupt.

Turning a blind eye

This has become institutionalised and runs the gamut from 'tips' for expediting paperwork (that is sometimes deliberately delayed) to large bribes for protection of underworld characters, turning a blind eye to illegal activities and dropping serious charges against accused individuals.

Corruption is so deeply entrenched and scattered among various government agencies that it appears to be rampant. It will be extremely difficult for those involved to extricate themselves because they have become depended on the lifestyle afforded them by such a systemic practice.

It is ridiculous for anyone to expect a commissioner of police to solve our crime problems. Policing is only one ingredient in the amalgam that causes and controls criminality. I know that Ellington is extremely capable and will do his best to succeed, but his efforts can be undermined by an absence of concomitant social programmes and sabotaged by cops engaging in unethical and/or illegal activities.

As usual, the citizens, communities and politicians must play their part if we are to reduce crime; but my appeal is for the constabulary to seize the opportunity for positive change for the sake of our country.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may be sent to or