To give the impression that all police are bad is a fallacy. All of something can never be the same thing. It is a hasty generalization of the worst kind and it is not fair to those men and women in the Force who do their best to serve. And I believe we owe it to those who serve to the best of their ability to identify and solve the problems which affect their institution.
Last night Constable Bourne and Constable Fraser who were on duty at the station in the Grove New Housing Scheme (accessible from the Diamond New Housing Scheme road) were kind to me. Constable Fraser was polite, he knew that I was upset and he understood. Although he didn’t have to at that time, he collected the food I’d taken for my brother and cousin and delivered it to their cell.
This one kind act from a police man connected me to him. During that moment of kindness, I felt that I could trust him and that he really was there acting in my best interest and in my brother’s and cousin’s best interest. In such a moment, I would have been most sympathetic to the Police and their struggles and most in favour of working to help improve their condition and correct their institution.
The important lesson here is that reconstructing the goodness and integrity of the Force is not a job only for police and policy-makers. It is something that can only be achieved by connecting and engaging with civilians. If people feel that the Force is for the people, kind to the people and act in favour of the people then they (Police) will have an ally in the people as well as their good faith.
The Civilian Issues
- Many civilians like you and I – particularly the less educated – are unaware of just how much damage they do when they fail to report a crime. In fact, they are unaware of the importance of reporting crimes and the repercussions which come from failing to do so. (A lesson my aunt and uncle have learnt the hard way)
- Many young men like my brother, in fact many people, believe that in order to get justice it is absolutely fine to take the law into their own hands. In throwing the coconut behind the fleeing, knife wielding thief, my brother was trying to incapacitate him and hand him over to the police. Clearly, there are thin lines between acting in favour of justice and perpetrating an injustice. He believed that he was acting in favour of justice and he does not understand anything beyond this.
- Civilians, like myself, are ill equipped to walk into a station and make reasonable, rational requests for information from the police. Dealing with the police means dealing with a matter of very personal value and often it is something which unbalances us emotionally. It is difficult to manage our emotive responses in such frustrating situations and it makes communication very difficult, particularly when some police act very unprofessionally.
- Civilians are unaware of their rights and they lack information. If I had not worked in the area that I did in the past, I would have no knowledge of the police’s right to hold my brother, on reasonable grounds, for 72 hours without charging him. I also would not know that in failing to charge him with an offence within 72 hours the police would then be legally obligated to release him.
- Because of terrible experiences with poor police response and unprofessional attitudes, members of the public have little or no faith in the Force. This lack of faith is in turn responsible for a certain brand of fear of police and a reluctance to engage with them. The other men who were witnesses to the incident were fearful of going to the police to give statements because they feared the treatment experienced by my brother and cousin.
- Civilians lack information and they are not fully aware of the conditions which limit the Police’s ability to function.
The Police Issues
- Many police seem ill equipped to deal with situations which involve emotional relatives. However, as evidenced by constables Bourne and Fraser there are some who can handle such situations professionally.
- Constable Sumner could not understand why my aunt did not know how she had erred by failing to report the incident. He failed to advise her accordingly. By failing to advise her accordingly, a man who was accused of stealing, threatening the life of several persons and assault was allowed to walk away.
- If the police man who apprehended my brother and cousin had spent enough time on the scene asking the right questions then I do not believe that either my brother or cousin would have spent the night in the lock-ups.
- When Constables Sumner and Murray allowed their female colleague to mock me and laugh at me for being emotionally upset, they allowed unprofessional behaviour which reinforced the negative image of the Force and did nothing to encourage good faith in them or a feeling of being protected and cared for by police.
The Collective Problem
If we had to write a rough problem statement for all of the above, it would be something like this (I encourage you all to have a go at it in the comments):
“Poor professional conduct and response from police coupled with a public that does not know its rights and obligations to the law has resulted in poor police/civilian relations.”
The Beginnings of a Solution
A few years back, I had a conversation with a female officer who was then in charge of the Grove Police Station. She was complaining to me about the lack of participation in the police’s youth group and community movement. I told her that the movement had to be taken outside the station yard and into the surrounding villages.
These same youth/community groups which should exist at every station provide a good platform for the implementation of a program which sees police volunteering to equip people with information and teach people in their community about their rights, conduct in handling situations that require interacting with agents of the law and obligations to the law. I believe that if used correctly this platform can restore faith in the Force and good relations with civilians.
What does public faith and good relations mean for the police:
- The public will be more sympathetic to the limitations being faced by the force and more inclined to see that it is not fault of the Force that it does not have access to the resources it needs to efficiently and effectively carry out its duty. People will understand that Police are not to be blamed, but rather the fault lies in a flawed system.
- The public will be less afraid of police and more willing to cooperate with them in fighting crime. People do things for people they feel connected to and for people who do things for them.
- The public will be more inclined to get involved in civilian powered projects which seek to address some of the limitations being faced by Police. Solving the problem will become a shared responsibility.
Issues of unprofessional conduct are due to either a lack of comprehensive training in areas such as managing situations charged with emotion or advising members of the public about their obligations and rights or are due to a lack of enforcement of protocols which govern police conduct in various situations.
I know that beautiful codes of conduct and protocols are in existence. If most police do not follow these guidelines then the matter must be one of enforcement or ignorance. Policies will never be followed nor will they ever be effective if enforcement is absent and actors are unaware of the policy.
I will not comment on issues of poor response as it relates to a lack of resources. I know that Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, like other security ministers before him, is doing the best he can. However, poor response is not always due to a lack of resources. It is in many cases a result of poor police training, neglect or a lack of consideration.
The bottom line is that education, interaction and enforcement are all very necessary if we are to begin solving this magnanimous issue. Now that the professionals and specialists are equipped with a civilian perspective of the matter, I trust that it helps them with moving forward.