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Saturday, June 17, 2017

For some reason the armed robbery of Father Clyde Harvey triggered reactions of shock from members of the public. It seemed inconceivable to many that criminals would target a man of the cloth. Father Harvey is, unfortunately, as eligible as any of us to be targeted by criminal predators. The horrific manifestations of our decline are such that his treatment was tame in comparison to the experiences of other victims. When gun-toting home invaders start cannibalising their terrified victims, then and only then can the newspapers justifiably pull out the headline, “Trinidad Reach!”

Thankfully, Father Harvey escaped that ordeal with his life to continue his outreach in orphaned communities. His brush with death got people talking about crime again, even as other victims of violent home invasions or executions fail to get top billing. The stories appear in the newspapers every week, and while the media keep the spotlight on rampant lawlessness, perhaps crime fatigue is setting in among a population besieged for years. The criminal underworld is now simply the world, with bloodthirsty gunmen prosecuting their campaigns of terror with impunity. Security cameras, increasingly ubiquitous in homes across the country, capture savage predations on our families. There have been some praiseworthy responses from the police, at least two this past week, in which the lightening response of law enforcement offers some hope. Unfortunately violent crime has metastasised to the extent that the police are behind the curve.

Recently I watched a television programme called “The Met: Policing London” It follows the work of the London Metropolitan police force as it works to stay one step ahead of violent crime in a teeming city. This programme should be required viewing for the senior hierarchy of our police service. With a population of over eight million, crime and gang violence is an ever-present menace for the London Met. Many episodes feature proactive prosecution of knife offences. The London Met police equate each knife left on the streets with a potential killing or maiming. This is an important point because it conveys a mentality of giving no quarter to the criminal mindset. Big things have small beginnings; a knife becomes the gun, which becomes the killer without qualms. One Met officer, in explaining their no tolerance policy towards knives, pointed out that knife injuries, while they can be fatal, can also reverberate throughout the victim’s life should they survive a stabbing.

Another noteworthy feature of the programme is the deployment of officers across the city at night. They are paired up and sent out on patrol on the streets. These patrols work in conjunction with a command centre, which appears to be monitoring CCTV footage in real time. This means their response to violent incidents, or calls from the public is much faster. In one scene officers arrested a young man attempting to bludgeon another with a bike lock outside of a nightclub. They were on patrol in the area and, therefore, able to prevent a street brawl from becoming something more serious.

This is in stark contrast to our known affinity, both among our police officers and members of the public, for the institution of the police station. As a politician once said, people feel more comfortable with a police station in the community, even if there are no available cars and the crime would have to occur on the compound for any chance of intervention by law enforcement.

The Met police also have lessons for our officers on community policing. One episode featured the work of a task force doggedly chasing the boldfaced operation of a brothel in a residential community. At a community meeting, members of the task force took questions from anxious residents. These officers weren’t there to simply observe and report. They were able to update residents on the progress of their investigation without revealing sensitive details. This exercise also prepared the ground for cooperation between the community and the police. In other words, they didn’t simply supply themselves as vessels for cathartic ranting by frustrated Londoners. They showed up ready to illustrate exactly how they are tackling the problem. The task force was ultimately successful in switching off the red lights at the cat-house

The way the London Metropolitan police force functions is a model our police force would do well to emulate. While on the face of it, there seems to be an increased police presence locally (albeit focused more on motoring infractions) we need the discipline of strategy, the structure of patrols working with an intelligence gathering apparatus that aspires to boost the prevention of violent crimes as well as the prosecution of offenders. Police stations with sleeping officers are of little value to a society under siege.

We also need a quality of community policing that builds trust and opens a conduit for information on criminal activities. Restoration of trust and faith in the police will take time. But as Father Harvey might say, faith without works is dead. Crime in this country is such that citizens can no longer wait for the police to catch up.


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