Friday 22nd July, 2005


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Draft of third commentary on the Constitution Reform (Amendment) Bill

To protect and serve

Christopher R Thomas

In its first and second commentaries on the Constitution Reform (Amendment) Bill which were published respectively on May 11 and 12, (Express) and June 22 (Guardian), the Police Service Commission stated, after detailed analyses, that the bill’s proposed political thrust, was inimical to the functioning of an independent body or authority.

The commission also noted that the structure and functions of the proposed Police Management Authority involved little practical difference from those of the present Police Service Commission and observed that there was therefore no need to amend the Constitution, as proposed by the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, in order to confront pervading crime in T&T.

The commission concluded that pervading crime should be addressed through a number of measures detailed in its second commentary. The commission undertook to develop these issues subsequently and now does so in a third commentary.

The issues are examined against the backdrop of meetings and exchanges with a wide cross-section of national stakeholders over the past ten months.

Special attention is paid to responses gleaned during the recently concluded Outreach Programme (first phase) to the Police Service between February and April 2005, during which the commission was able to interact with all divisions of the Police Service at the various divisional headquarters throughout T&T.

This outreach programme which was unprecedented in the history of the commission, sought to:

extend the collaboration of the commission to police officers collectively and individually

establish the commission’s presence as an active constitutional agency within the larger purview of the police function and

define more clearly the constitutional responsibility of the commission and establish an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between police management and the commission.

The programme was fully supported by the Police Social and Welfare Association, the commissioner of police and senior management of the Police Service, who all participated actively throughout the programme.

These areas covered:

recruitment and probation

performance appraisal and promotion

disciplinary process

training and on-the-job supervision

absences and shortages of uniforms and crime-fighting gear

dilapidated police stations

non-strategic location of new police stations

absence of an effective employee assistance programme

pervasive shortage of vehicles

deficient technology for surveillance and detection of criminal practices and

uncompetitive crime-fighting equipment.

The discussions revealed many areas of concern and dissatisfaction in relation to:

public/police perceptions

career advancement, mobility and conditions of service

administrative practices and decisions and

critical management operational deficiencies.

The commission is aware that these troubling areas are not new. Indeed they are long-standing. However, the commission is persuaded that unless urgently addressed, the problems outlined will have the following consequences:

irreparable damage to morale

attitudinal and operational indifference in performance and conduct

misuse of office and public distrust

chronic indiscipline

internal conflict and

ultimate inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

In spite of these wide-ranging challenges, the commission perceived a mood of expectation among many police officers, a disposition to courageous self-criticism, open admission of the incidence of corruption within the ranks and a willingness to collaborate, in improving the image and performance of the Police Service.

This is an encouraging mood which can provide an effective basis for enhanced management of the police function.

The several troubling areas outlined above are not all within the purview of the commission. Indeed, many of them are not. The responses of the commission will accordingly be three-tiered.

Early attention to those matters for which the commission has constitutional responsibility—recruitment, transfer, appointment, promotion, discipline and the enforcement of standards of conduct.

Early referral to the national government of those matters pertaining to the government as employer—terms and conditions of service, standards and requirements of labour and industrial relations and operational requirements for effective job performance.

Active collaboration with national agencies and relevant associations in respect of areas that span mutual jurisdictional competencies—conditions of recruitment and probation, examinations, training and criteria for transfers, appointments and promotions.

This collaboration is critical to the proper discharge of the commission’s constitutional responsibilities which implicitly requires that the commission be satisfied with the quality, conduct and performance of the personnel which it is required to recruit, appoint, promote and discipline.

There is need, therefore, to address the jurisdictional gap between the “managerial” and the management function. In this regard, the commission proposes to ensure that quality personnel become a standard feature of the Police Service.

The commission believes that this approach, which addresses such basic imperatives as quality recruitment, quality appointment and promotion, enforcement of proper conduct and effective and an expeditious disciplinary machinery, is critical in the fight against crime.

It proposes to have this approach implemented in the shortest possible time, after due and appropriate consultation.

This approach will constitute only one dimension—quality police personnel—of the overall requirements of an integrated national response.

Attendant and cogent responses must inevitably involve structured community involvement at the widest and deepest levels, through citizens awareness groups, active and strategic partnering by the private sector and all responsible stakeholders, enhanced police credibility, improved police/public relations, sustained civic and social educational programmes, an effective employee assistance programme and, in particular, assertive operational initiatives.

In a subsequent commentary, the commission will inform of the mechanisms it has put in place and its perceptions of the required national responses as informed through its earlier and continuing outreach initiatives.

Christopher R Thomas is the chairman of the Police Service Commission.




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