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Raffique Shah


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Enter Gary Griffith: Act One

By Raffique Shah
September 19, 2018

Gary Griffith couldn't have scripted a better opening act for his entry onto the national stage as the new Commissioner of Police, even if he were the Bard of Cascade or whatever suburb he lives in or comes from.

After six years of play-acting by career police officer Stephen Williams, and amidst much intrigue, controversy and good old Trinidad bacchanal over the selection of a new CoP, which featured principal parts played by politicians of every hue and persuasion, not to add cameos by a significant number among the "extras" in the 1.4 million population, Gary landed the starring role—and what an entry he made.

Pulling the zip halfway across his mouth—from now, my actions will speak, not my words—he seemed to have won the support of most if not all his senior subordinates, some of whom had competed with him for the position, but who had not found favour with the Government. When I wrote about his chances a few weeks before his selection, I mentioned that this sore point would have been a major obstacle to his performance.

In this cussed country, few persons at such high levels in organisations as large and complex as the Police Service or conglomerates in the private sector readily accept a rival, especially one who comes from the outside, as their boss. That Gary seems to have overcome this, however uneasy the truce between him and them may be, is a credit to him, and more so a credit to them—his deputy- and assistant-commissioners.

This support is an absolute prerequisite to the success of the new Commissioner's principal focus, the implementation of measures that will bring about a measurable reduction in serious crimes in the shortest time. It is what the beleaguered population expects, what he promised to deliver, although, wisely, he has asked for one year before we see tangible results.

When he came on stage telling criminals that henceforth, it won't be business as usual, they seemed to have taken the threat as "gun talk". The murder-spree continued without pause, as did other crimes such as armed robberies, burglaries, rape and so on.

He dramatically instituted "Operation Strike Back", which saw multi-pronged police raids in districts where gang killings had erupted. These have had limited success: small numbers of suspects were arrested, fewer charged with serious felonies, and there were the usual hauls of arms and ammunition that looked suspiciously like obsolete hardware the criminals wanted to dispose of.

But the quick strike-backs must have unsettled the criminals and their host communities. If I may offer my two cents suggestion to the Commissioner, I think "Operation First Strike" (the name says it all) would be more effective than "Strike Back". Since both will be intelligence-driven, hence equipping the police with fore-knowledge of their targets, and the criminals with no fore-warning of the attacks, chances of seizing weapons and would-be killers before they brazenly go on gun-sprees would be higher...just a thought.

But back to Gary's stage-entry: within days of taking office, a classic kidnapping-for-ransom falls in his lap, quite literally, and offers him the opportunity to deliver an award-winning performance. He grabs it with both hands, utilising, I presume, all available electronically-sourced intelligence (CCTV footage, GPS info, telephonic monitoring, etc).

Besides his hands-on, leadership-from-the-front intervention (which is drilled into the DNA of Sandhurst-trained officers), he will also have made use of human intelligence—usage of feet, eyes and ears on the ground, a critical element that modern policing has surrendered to technology, but which remains a reliable tool of warfare as it did in ancient times.

In four days, the new CoP, working with men who had been there all the time, but who had probably never experienced such hands-on leadership, were able to free a female hostage and capture at least one of the kidnappers. Because the matter continues to be under investigation, I cannot write what might prejudice any court cases that will arise from it.

Suffice it to say Gary got a bonus when it turned out that criminal elements in the Police Service may have been involved in the sordid affair. We have always known about these so-called "rogue" cops (common criminals, I say), and the advent of the Professional Standards Bureau has seen some of them brought to book. But if this case pans out the way it seems to be heading, the CoP might well get the moral, and hopefully legal, authority to not just weed them out of the Service, but throw their backsides in jail.

I have long argued that the police must be purged of these criminal elements, whatever the risks and cost in lawsuits that might follow. That and the elimination of gangs-controlled "turfs" are two prerequisites to any serious assault on crime. No one, not even Griffith, can wage war against crime when criminals are involved in strategising in the "war rooms", and when the law enforcement agencies fear entering criminals' "turfs".

So, against immense odds, Gary seems to have started his term of office on the right foot. He has garnered much goodwill from a population that does not readily trust public officials.

A word of caution to the politicians, particularly those holding high offices such as the Minister of National Security and Attorney-General: stay away from the operations theatres that are the province of the CoP. You will contaminate crime scenes with political verbiage from which Gary, given his background, should be distancing himself, not embracing.

A word to the wise...

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