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Raffique Shah


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We can fight crime without bills

July 04, 2004
By Raffique Shah

IT'S difficult to understand Prime Minister Patrick Manning's rationale behind his government's $2 million advertising blitz in support of the now-rejected Police Reform Bills. I agree with Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday that the money will have been better spent in acquiring some new hardware for the police. Because long before the PM decided to bring the Bills to Parliament, their fates were sealed in the increasingly polarised politics that is now reality in Trinidad, if not Tobago. They were doomed to fail.

If he had hoped to convince Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday to support the Bills, even by caving in on some radical amendments to them, then Manning must be more naive than I thought he was. If it was intended to make the public aware of just what the legislation was about, then he will have reached only PNM supporters and a relatively small number of independent-thinking people, not diehard UNC supporters. In Mr Panday's house, as his MPs are acutely aware, there's one cardinal rule: follow the leader or face political death.

But the government's failure to get the Bills passed should not be seen as an obstacle, or indeed, an excuse, to stopping the crime spiral. While they could have been important tools in changing the management structure of the Police Service, their absence does mean that fighting crime will be so adversely affected as to make it ineffective. True, there are serious problems within the police that must, at some point, be resolved. We know only too well about the crooked and the incompetents within the service who have given the police a bad name. Listening to UNC MP Nizam Baksh relate his woes following his son's kidnapping and eventual murder, was heart-rending.

Here were the police, totally lacking co-ordination, and seemingly working by "vaps". True, a man in the throes of a personal family crisis might tend to expect miracles, which no policeman can deliver. But to play a wait-and-see game in the midst of a kidnapping is unacceptable. Why, as Baksh correctly pointed out, were the police not deployed all around the district to follow every lead? Most might have been dead-end, but in a situation like that one leaves no stone unturned.

Also, while members of the Anti-Kidnapping Squad may be well trained, do they have all the tools necessary to perform their duties? Where were the helicopters?

Still, in spite of his personal loss, Baksh, like all his UNC colleagues, did not vote in favour of the Bills that offered some hope for a better organised police service. But that was not unexpected as I wrote at the beginning of this column.

It is clear that runaway crime statistics give the UNC leadership and its diehard supporters more propaganda material.

The loss of lives really does not matter to them, even when it hits home. It's for them to wrestle with their consciences-and all this hogwash about Manning becoming a dictator by the stroke of these Bills! Do they take us for fools? Will this country ever allow a dictator to emerge, or if he does, to last longer than it takes the sun to set? Not our freedom loving Trinis! He'll be hanged in Woodford Square before he could issue his second edict!

Manning must forget the Bills and now focus on fighting crime with more fervour. In fact, he needs to show the UNC that without its help he and his government will meet rising crime head-on and deal with it effectively.

In fighting the kinds of crimes we have to deal with-drug running, gang warfare, punks-turned-robbers-he ought to know that the first and most effective tool is intelligence. The forces of law and order cannot operate without knowing who the criminals are. When there exists a situation in which intelligence gathering agencies are not sharing vital information, you have a major problem. And it gets worse when you have someone who is collating this information not having a clue as to what is important, what needs to be drawn to the attention of and National Security Council.

As it stands, there are many square pegs in round holes, and the PM does not need any bills to act on these gaping anomalies. He knows what I am addressing. He needs to act, and act quickly.

There is very good human resource material out there, personnel from both the military and the police who have retired or left the services.

Taxpayers spent huge sums of money to train these people, only to lose their knowledge and expertise when they reach 50. That's an unforgivable waste. To cite the latest example, I will hate to think that come next month we will see Police Commissioner Snaggs ride off into the sunset-a man who has so much experience and so much life left in him. The same can be said of many more good officers from all arms of the protective services.

The PM must also re-visit the Ken Gordon Committee report. I haven't seen it, but I am told by people in the know that there are many recommendations that could impact on the crime spiral in a short time. Someone said the Committee recommended the addition of 1,000 more officers.

My information is that it recommended highly qualified personnel to be added to the service to manage and process information on which the uniformed cops could act. Instead, what the government did was to bring on board 1,000 SRPs. There is nothing wrong with harnessing the SRPs, but a qualitative input among new personnel is an imperative.

We keep saying that the criminals today are smarter than the police. But what are we doing to reverse this?

What is the status of the radar equipment that has been purchased at great cost to taxpayers? Manning must know that one needs to activate this under the control of highly trained and secure personnel.

We have established that almost all the guns and drugs that come into this country do so via the many bays around our island state. Some weeks ago I said we needed an iron-clad system that could follow the movements of all vessels and aircraft around both islands. Does the system have such capability? If it doesn't, then upgrade it. And have it operational on a 24/7 basis. And the computer systems we need to have as a critical tool for the police, what's happening with that?

Mr Manning needs to prove now that he is capable of fighting crime with or without UNC support. Be your own man, Sir. Don't "big up" Mr Panday to the detriment of your own reputation, and that of your government.