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Talking like Yankees

By Terry Joseph
October 21, 2005

Metropolitan slang and slogans, communication developed for situation-specific applications are often adapted locally, lock, stock and accent and for frivolous reasons, which is why there should be no difficulty in any anti-crime campaign embracing the maxim of New York's subway police: "If you see something, say something."

After a recent threat to the city's transportation system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg chanted the mantra in a bid to further sharpen vigilance among subway commuters, shoring up metro police strategy to broaden its intelligence network by conscripting every passenger to the cause; urging them to report any unusual activity.

According to NYC law enforcement, the tactic has delivered although, at introduction, some callers went overboard, seeing The Jackal in every limp, leaving officials to wonder whether they had inadvertently induced paranoia, rather than a matrix for passenger protection but accepting all information and, through a process of triangulation, deciding if it comprised worthwhile leads.

Reputed as a city where residents would rather sidestep a corpse than anonymously report its location, if street-level New Yorkers could be asked to co-operate in stemming crime, then here, given native penchant for minding other people's business; it should be relatively easy to convince those who see something to say something.

Not that Trinis routinely witness unusual events, pretend distraction and quietly walk away. Contrarily, our people will more likely zoom in for closer scrutiny of the goings-on but where the NYC subway concept is derailed is in the line of reporting; locals preferring to tell friends vivid versions of the episode, instead of rushing to inform the authorities.

Of course, the latter approach demands trusting law enforcement to maintain confidentiality, which is where we encounter a credibility gap, given widespread belief that criminals are immediately apprised of not just the report but whereabouts of its source, receiving leaked information long before an investigative squad can muster; killing (as it stands) any hope of detection.

Springing from this polarisation of people and police is a considerably more crippling condition, in which witnesses to unlawful activity harass law enforcement rather than support it, as substantiated on the low end by protest from those who see police-aided wreckers moving badly parked cars or, at the other extremity, suppressing knowledge of illegal acts, limiting response to derision of police ineffectiveness at uncovering such conspiracies.

Among politicians, the proposition becomes even more complex, with some self-servingly waiting on the most public of opportunities to say something, while others might actually see a way to halt crime within 90 days but only reveal those plans upon winning a seat in Parliament which, if we measure that promise by current odds, could take us years to hear such disclosure.

But the responsibility for reducing crime cannot be left exclusively to police or parliamentarians, for there really is no failsafe method of mapping when a solo bandit will strike, where kidnappers plan to abduct another victim, rapists stalk, hired guns carry out the next execution, gangs go on a rampage or domestic violence occurs and worse, erupts into fatality.

Like the New York example, crime-reduction statistics from which we seem so eager to cite at every sequence, everyone must become more involved and not merely by marching through the streets articulating disgust or staging silent candlelight vigils. If you see something, say something. Calls to 800-TIPS have clearly produced results and provide a buffer between you and any perception of mistrust.

While ultimate responsibility remains with police, the average citizen can spot dubious moves like people wearing full-length coats in the noonday sun, unusual protrusions from beneath clothing in general, or wires sticking out from a package of peculiar dimensions; particularly if the over-dressed custodian attempts to deposit it in a public place. In your home community, suspicious behaviour is even easier to identify.

According to a knowledgeable source in the local security service industry, by strict legal definition, Trinidad and Tobago has more than 20,000 guards, the sum of some 500 such companies, most of them trained up to at least rudimentary level in surveillance; providing a basis for constructing a much wider network than police and their informants can currently supply.

If you see something, say something. In short, do something, anything but sit around saying no one is doing anything about escalating crime.

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