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The CoP conundrum

Published: 
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The recounting of the history of an event or issue usually gives perspective and informs, particularly in relation to contentious matters, on motives and intentions. The present contention over the process adopted or ignored to select and have appointed a commissioner of police is a case in point. Here is the short history of how we have got to where we are.

The Police Service Commission, under the chairmanship of Christopher Thomas, recommended Stephen Williams for the job of commissioner; the People’s National Movement (PNM) government led by Patrick Manning vetoed the recommendation; Manning and his government argued that the process of selection was deficient as it was not designed to attract the best candidates possible. The government changed the process for recruitment to find someone with Metropolitan experience. That done, it became obvious that a foreigner was wanted for the position.

The process outlined by the PNM government was supported by the then opposition United National Congress. Eventually Canadians Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Ewatski topped the list. In the interim, Manning’s PNM was voted out of power. New Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar expressed misgivings about the process, but said the government had no choice but to make the appointments to avoid another lengthy delay in having a commissioner in office.

Persad-Bissessar, however, promised to re-order the complicated and foreign-looking process. In the lead up to the Canadians taking up their appointments, then acting CoP Philbert James was literally chased out of office by the crude remarks of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan; the remarks were so uncivilised that PM Persad-Bissessar was moved to say she would have addressed the issue differently.

Approximately two years into the contract of the Canadians, the Prime Minister placed her then right-hand man, Jack Warner, in the job of Minister of National Security. Warner was direct, he wanted the Canadians out of office. He discredited the anti-crime plan of Gibbs and was harshly critical of the commissioner’s handling of matters. Before long the Canadians were on their way back home, having been fired and paid off for the remaining portion of their contracts.

Stephen Williams was moved into the position of acting CoP until a permanent replacement was to be found; Williams has had five renewals of the acting appointments and is due for another one. During this period, new chairman of the Police Service Commission, Prof Ramesh Deosaran, and his team proposed measures for the simplification of the selection process of a CoP.

Two years after the PSC made the proposals and no movement to change the system for recruitment had been undertaken by the Government, chairman Deosaran resigned in frustration As concerns mounted about the continued acting of a CoP, AG Ramlogan defended the acting position and suggested that it is one means of keeping the acting CoP on his toes.

Suddenly, out of the blue, the Government seems interested, not in an overall revue of the complicated system, but desirous of changing the regulations to make it possible for superintendents to vie for the job of commissioner.  

However, the only rationale for the change is to the effect that “given the history of the police service” there is the need for widening of the pool, said Ramlogan. He does not say what he means by “given the history of the police service.” What is the lesson in that history that so warrants going to the level of the superintendent? There may be good reasons for extending the possible contenders base but the AG needs to say why.

Next, an amusing episode takes place. After it becomes clear that the Government would not be given the support required to make the adjustments to allow superintendents to qualify to apply for the job, the PM announces that she supports Williams and claims that he is doing a fine job; she even likens Williams and his job to the one she is doing; but alas, she exclaims, Williams, like herself may get kicked around and out.

In the meantime, the Government makes no effort to bring the changes to the regulations to simplify the process of appointing a CoP; indeed even with this talk of expanding the group from which the commissioner can emerge there is no effort at the fundamental change that most say is required.

The question for the reader is: What in this historical account of the actions of this Government that suggests that there is a serious intention to reform the system with the objective of having a CoP in a permanent position outside the reach of a government bent on manipulating an acting CoP?  

One conclusion made in public and media comment is to the effect that having to face the electorate on the issue of crime, the Government is desperately casting around hoping to find the solution in a new CoP and someone of its choice. But when government policy with reference to the permanent selection and appointment of a CoP is so distorted and so obviously directed at achieving political ambitions in preference to tackling the problem of crime, citizens’ security is compromised. 

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