Monday 22nd March, 2004

 
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Well done, Mr Snaggs, but long way to go still

A 75 per cent approval rating is exceptional for any leader, and for the head of the T&T Police Service, this is an outstanding achievement.

No reason exists to doubt the validity of the findings of the UWI/Ansa McAL Psychological Research Centre poll reported in the Sunday Guardian.

So the conclusion is irresistible that Commissioner Everald Snaggs must be doing something right.

On the evidence of the policing of Carnival 2004, Mr Snaggs must have done many things right. The result was a festival that was largely crime-free and delivered many positive vibrations.

It is the sobering measure of the current national condition that a safe and enjoyable Carnival is a function of the massive mobilisation of police and security resources directed by the chief of police.

Until recent years in T&T, the seasonal freeing-up had been marked by on all sides by a laid-back approach to a largely harmless fun thing.

When that changed, and assorted evildoers plunged through the Carnival windows of criminal opportunity, the T&T police were slow off the mark.

But starting in 2003, when Mr Snaggs was Deputy Commissioner, and continuing in 2004, the police have showed admirable adaptability in protecting and serving today’s Carnival.

The 60 per cent of survey respondents who said they were “satisfied,” and the other 15 per cent “very satisfied,” no doubt had the policing of Carnival 2004 in mind. The finding cut across lines of race, gender, age and education.

As one typical survey response put it, “For the short while he has been here doing this job, things have improved. Crime is decreasingly slowly but surely, like during Carnival time.”

That the achievement is attributed personally to the Police Commissioner is, however, borne out by the rest of the survey report. In popular favour, Mr Snaggs is evidently running way ahead of the Police Service.

The survey was done at a time when two officers have been facing charges for fatally shooting members of the public in Diego Martin and in Chaguaramas.

An inquest into another fatal shooting by police officers of a private secondary school student was also going on.

In the last two weeks, other deaths have occurred from police gunfire. Though on at least one of these occasions policemen were also themselves shot by bandits, doubt lingers in the public mind about whether the use of deadly force was justified on all occasions.

The UWI/Ansa McAL Psychological Research Centre survey reports not doubt but firm public conviction that “police officers use excessive force.” Forty-six per cent of respondents think they do so “often;” 17 per cent even judge this to be the case “all the time.” A solid majority of 63 per cent are so convinced.

No surprise, then, that 78 per cent of respondents say “there needs to be more friendly interaction between the police and the people.”

If people think the police are likely to “bully” citizens, as a typical respondent said or, worse, to shoot first and ask questions later, this is a recipe for a disastrous breakdown in trust and co-operation.

As the memory of Carnival 2004 fades, Mr Snaggs’ own public image is likely to be more and more tainted by public disapproval of how his officers behave.

He has done well, the survey says, but it suggests a lot remains to be done.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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