Sunday 18th March, 2007

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Jury still out on Mastrofski role

The country wants to trust in the government’s assurances, now coming in a flood, about progress in crime containment and in law enforcement.

More accustomed to bad rather than good news, we now want to believe a corner has been turned, and that investments in crime-fighting are finally bearing fruit.

It has thus been heartening to learn of the five model police stations National Security Minister Martin Joseph announced last week for Arouca, Chaguanas, Morvant, San Fernando and West End.

He did not make clear to what extent “Policing for the People,” as he called it, entailing fully-staffed, well-equipped, cutting-edge stations, remains yet another plan painfully awaiting roll-out.

Certainly, he derives announcement value from the unveiling of a project with such attractive components.

For it’s an ambitious initiative to “change the culture” of the Police Service, orienting the organisation toward delivery of services most valued by the public.

Police precincts

US professor Stephen Mastrofski, consulting change agent in the T&T police “transformation,” will be overseeing the project. The professor presumably brings applicable academic knowledge of, if not also hands-on experience in, how the US system of police “precincts” works.

He should be familiar with the values and operational procedures of a mature and efficient system of law enforcement.

One outcome of such a system has just been reported from New York city, where the atrocious killing of a bridegroom in November 2006 has resulted in indictments of three police officers in March 2007.

Exhaustive investigations of the incident and grand jury hearings have produced actionable findings in an impressive four months.

In the training he provides here, Prof Mastrofski should use the New York episode as a case study of timely and effective policing and law-enforcement procedures’ operating to restore at least some public confidence.

He has been around long enough to grasp characteristics of the traditional culture of T&T policing.

Still, so far so good, as Policing for the People looks, at least in prospect. One hundred officers, with 20 vehicles, plus support staff, are to be assigned to each of the five stations.

Each station will have resources for helping victims cope with the trauma of crime, and also for supporting witnesses.

The benchmarks for upgraded performance by officers in those stations are also admirable. Accessibility to the public, responsiveness, competence and reliability are listed among the goals of change.

No recruits

In addition, officers are to be coached in attentive public relations toward a customer-service ethic.

For all these ideas and objectives to amount to more than campaign marketing gimmickry, some hard issues have, however, to be faced.

Mr Joseph announced creation of 287 police posts, without saying where the officers to fill these posts will come from. Just the day before, one predecessor, Joe Theodore, noted that the Police Service was some 1,200 officers under strength.

As is well known, no recruits are regularly “passed out” to fill the vacancies steadily opened up by retirements and resignations.

If the 500 officers for the five model stations are to be taken from other stations or operations, the public can hardly expect to be winners in such a zero-sum game.

Nor can the public be assured that this initiative is near effective implementation. The minister said short-term upgrading of facilities was underway and long-term needs were being assessed, and that equipment—from guns and handcuffs, through computers to furniture—had only been ordered.

Policing for the People, then, advertised in the name of an American expert, is a work still in early stages of progress.

Prof Mastrofski will thus understand that the grand jury of the T&T public is still out on the question of his contribution to crime-fighting.

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