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No more Mr Nice Guy

Terry Joseph
February 20, 2002

When last I met Police Commissioner Hilton Guy, he was at his most pleasant, dressed in casuals, strolling the Witco Desperadoes panyard, smiling, waving to spectators, exchanging jokes with players and eventually, giving the Laventille Hill band a pep-talk. Little things mean a lot.

But in the three-week interim since his panyard visit, Mr Guy seems to have discarded all niceties, blasting anyone with the temerity to criticise our police service; some salvos dangling precariously on the fine line between frank comment and sheer arrogance.

When the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (Doma) complained its members werenít seeing enough of his officers patrolling Port of Spainís commercial district, Mr Guy's retort cavalierly suggested the complainants were all blind.

We do not need to harp upon the inappropriateness of his reference to vision-impaired persons, but it appears Mr Guy did not himself see the need to supply supporting evidence. He simply assured us there were "more than enough" policemen on city streets.

However, when asked to respond to concerns expressed by hoteliers about the record number of crimes against tourists during Carnival, the new Mr Guy said: "I don't answer to stupidness," refusing to speak further on the matter without first seeing supporting statistics.

Mere days later, he openly contradicted National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee, opining that a proposed 30-day anti-crime plan will not effectively deal with the problem of escalating lawlessness in the society; this notwithstanding his role on an advisory team selected to create precisely such a strategy.

In addition, Mr Guy recently chastised the media for highlighting crime stories which, he argued, glorify common or garden-variety axe-murderers and bandits and perhaps set up attractive alternatives for persons yet undecided about problem-solving techniques or lucrative careers.

Interestingly, he overlooked the fact that such stories invariably list the entire squad of police officers involved in the investigation, often with the courtesy of assigning rank in descending order which, some might say, also extols his team.

But apparently, it is no time for concessions of any sort. On the evidence, the Commissioner has obviously shed his velvet gloves and, one suspects, is not merely talking tough. Buoyed by Minister Chin Lee's promise of "harsh measures" to deal with crime, it seems clear we're about to fully experience the living definition of "No more Mr Nice Guy".

Given that context, his recent fusillade of fulmination must have been nothing more than friendly fire. After all, Mr Chin Lee, members of DOMA, the hoteliers, Chamber of Commerce, media and the majority of citizens are equally concerned about rising crime and therefore on the same side with Mr Guy.

But global response to the worsening crime situation obtaining here cannot have escaped his attention. The recently concluded Carnival of Lawlessness only provided a more conducive forum for perverts, pickpockets, purse-snatchers and pipers. Even murderers got into the act, confident that police investigation would be either slow or fruitless.

When scores of people pack lethal weapons before leaving home on Carnival days, the larger concern must be over the percentage of population that now has absolutely no respect for law and order or those with responsibility for its enforcement. Having more police officers and vehicles offers no guarantee of rescue from that mind-set.

Even among his present crop of officers, Mr Guy must have heard of constables who spend their time on the streets trying to score with women. Someone must have told him about officers on duty at entertainment events who, instead of perusing the audience for early signs of possible disruption, focus on the stage for a free concert.

Now, he may not have heard about any of the eight fights that broke out during an Ash Wednesday night fete at a Chaguaramas venue because, according to one of the promoters, his officers opted to join the viewer-ship of each fracas rather than intervene.

What he must be aware of, since it is knowledge common to policing systems in sophisticated societies, is that crimes against quality-of-life are sharp indicators of greater trouble ahead. Urinating on fences, disturbing the peace and creating a public nuisance helps profile potential for major crime.

His traffic cops must understand blocking the free passageway, parallel parking to exchange greetings, improper overtaking, jaywalking and cruising through stop signs at least create road rage which, experts say, often leads to violent conflict that manifests many miles from the source of first irritation.

Of course, perpetrators of major crimes are to be pursued with requisite vigour, appropriate skills and technology, but like any other sphere of existence, getting away with a petty infraction entices doers into greater adventure.

If I read him right, from here on in things will improve swiftly because a large part of today's crime problem must have grown out of those small things a nice-guy Commissioner would normally overlook. But no longer will they be allowed to graduate into uncontrollable situations and insidiously return us to this sorry pass, because there's no more Mr Nice Guy.

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