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Equip the protective services

Sunday, August 9, 2015
Douglas Mendes

I have criticised the police for dragging their feet in the investigation into the murder of my friend Dana Seetahal, and I must now congratulate them for bringing the case to a successful conclusion. By successful conclusion, I mean that they have amassed sufficient evidence to persuade the Director of Public Prosecutions that there is a proper case to put before a jury for its consideration.

I suppose they have provided somewhat of a partial explanation for their tardiness by way of their reference to the assistance which they sought and received for a foreign agency. I imagine that assistance was of an unspecified technical nature. Which is all well and good. 

As well off as we might be as a small twin-island state, there will always be some cutting-edge scientific procedure or technique that we may not have, the equipment or human expertise, to carry out the necessary task. 

There is no reason, however, why we should not be in a position to equip our protective services with the other more run-of-the-mill technical and scientific resources, both human and material, which would enable them to perform at the level deserving of a modern police force.

To detect crime and bring perpetrators to justice, police officers first and foremost must have a good working knowledge of the law. They must know what must ultimately be proved in a court of law to establish the guilt of an accused person. 

That knowledge is essential if they are to be in a position to recognise relevant and probative evidence when they see it. That knowledge is also essential if they are to develop and pursue all pertinent lines of enquiry, to ask all the necessary questions, and to preserve all crucial physical evidence. 

They will also have to be trained in the techniques of ensuring that all evidence that is gathered is admissible in a court of law. No doubt, the DPP and his department are there to assist when called upon to do so, but the DPP has his own full plate of matters to attend to and his office is not designed to be a substitute for sound investigative police work.

Police officers charged with detecting crime must also be trained in all the modern, scientific techniques, electronic and otherwise, which have become commonplace in any police force worth its salt. We should have our own departments with our own experts who can carry out DNA testing and analyse CCTV footage, along with the other more mundane tasks such as ballistic examinations, fingerprinting, and such like. 

And all these departments must be sufficiently resourced, both human and material wise, to ensure a speedy turnaround time.

All of this means, of course, that we will have to ensure that our police officers are exposed to the necessary training, which no doubt can be obtained overseas. But, there is no reason why, between the University of the West indies and the University of T&T, who together have faculties of law and sciences, the necessary forensic science programmes cannot be developed within a relatively-short period of time. 

And by programmes, I mean full-fledged degrees, because the aim is to develop highly-trained specialists in crime detection and prosecution.

I am not talking about anything which is not practised in other countries. I have had the experience of interacting with young American detectives whose command of their investigations and the evidence needed to establish their cases was surpassed only by the district attorneys to whom they reported. The same is true of Scotland Yard detectives.

What would be new for us is how we integrate such highly-trained personnel in the existing police service structure.

At the moment, entry into the police service is normally at the lowest level of constable with room for promotion up the ranks as an officer distinguishes himself by his devotion to service and his successful pursuit of appropriate qualifications.

In the army, on the other hand, there is room for entry directly into the officer classes based upon academic qualifications or military training already received.

Likewise, with the necessary legislative adjustments, a cadre of highly-trained detectives can be created as an entry point into the service for people motivated and interested enough to successfully complete the degree programme. 

There is a vast resource of talented young people out there, men and women, who would be attracted by the challenge and excitement of a dynamic career in detecting crime, but who might not be willing to first undergo the relative drudgery of the constable on the beat.

An army of police officers trained in the use of force, where reasonable, and the use of weaponry, is indispensable to the enforcement of the law and the apprehension of criminals. 

Equally indispensable is an army within that army of people highly skilled in the techniques of evidence gathering and the preparation of a case for prosecution. 

Maybe, if the police service had been provided with these tools long ago, the arrests made last week would have come that much sooner.


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