Tuesday 26th July, 2005

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Mr Paul, change begins with you

The press conference given by Commissioner of Police Trevor Paul on Friday on the explosion in downtown Port-of-Spain two weeks ago was a disappointment.

Judging from the meagre results in terms of news reporting, the purpose of it seemed to be to withhold rather than share information.

Mr Paul told reporters that 43 people had been interviewed in connection with the incident, and that the explosive device seemed to have been a low-powered one.

And that was it.

Minister of National Security Martin Joseph, although he was slow off the mark himself, had offered far more new information a week before Mr Paul’s press conference, when he spoke in Parliament during a brief debate on the explosion.

Not only was Mr Joseph more forthcoming with information, but he also demonstrated a far greater willingness than did Mr Paul to share whatever he knew with a population that was naturally concerned and, in every sense of the word, interested.

Indeed, it may be that it was only on Mr Joseph’s urging that Mr Paul agreed even to go through the motions of holding a press conference, for it was the minister, at the post-Cabinet briefing the day before, who first announced that Mr Paul was to give the press conference. If so, Mr Joseph discovered the following day that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

There are two possible explanations for the paucity of facts and the grudging approach of Mr Paul. One is that the commissioner fails to understand the purpose of a press conference—or possibly even his own role in relation to the public.

The other reason is that there is no new information to give.

The police and other emergency services appeared to do well on July 11, arriving rapidly at the scene of the explosion, closing it off to cars and passers-by, dealing with the casualties and beginning forensic investigations on the scene.

This momentum, however, appears to have slowed, with no advances being announced since Mr Joseph’s report on July 15. There have been no arrests, and the police have been unable or unwilling to say whether they have any suspects.

Either way, the performance of the police in updating the public on the investigation into the explosion is especially unimpressive when compared to that of the Metropolitan Police and their head, Sir David Blair, since the first London bombings on July 7.

The London police, like other UK authorities, have not only made a number of arrests, released photographs of other suspects, and pursued leads at home and overseas, but have taken the initiative in consistently offering ample new information whenever new facts come to hand, and in recruiting the help of the public in dealing with the terrorist threat.

Back at home, Mr Paul has spoken numerous times of the need for the T&T police to improve their public image. Part of the new approach required is that the police need to treat members of the public, collectively and singly, as allies and as employers, rather than regarding them with suspicion and attempting to hide behind a cloak of official secrecy. Mr Paul needs to understand that if any such change is to be accomplished, it must begin with him.




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