By JACK WARNER
Gary Griffith is right; Justice Ricky Rahim did not shoot him down.
The headline crafted by the editor of the Trinidad Express of Thursday 25 June 2020 was nothing more than a sensational expression to sell its papers without taking into consideration the negative impact it could bring on the integrity of the Office of the Commissioner of Police.
Under the current conditions, I agree with Justice Rahim that the Commissioner does not have the locus standi to make such a decision; however, rather than the Express conduct a proper analysis and uncover the difficulties with which such a decision presents, it preferred to take the easy way out and attempt to hang the integrity of the Office of the Commissioner out to dry.
There is nothing wrong with Gary Griffith’s intent. The intention is to save the Police Service 50 million dollars annually from officers on suspension, who because of allegations raised against them, are not in a position to contribute to the safety and the security of the country.
The Commissioner’s intent is not to be unfair to the officers; but after two consecutive years with the murder rate spiralling beyond 500, and the seizure of arms and ammunition reflecting a more violent and hostile social landscape, his focus is in harnessing all its resources to concentrate on making the country safe, even for the editor and the journalists at the Express House.
The Commissioner’s actions may have raised questions for our judiciary, and while Justice Rahim is right in upholding the tenets of innocent before proven guilty, the judiciary needs to explain why it is so tardy in giving these suspended officers their day in court. If we are concerned about justice, we must also comprehend that justice delayed is justice denied.
These are questions one would have expected “holier than thou” Trinidad Express to raise, rather than publishing a story with a headline that only seeks to make our main crime fighter look bad.
A cry for help
In reviewing Justice Rahim’s judgement, I sighed because yes, there was a temporary tying of the Commissioner’s hands, but it should be nothing to gloat about especially when the Police Service needs resources to purchase vehicles for which there is a shortage, purchase bulletproof vests to keep our officers safer, provide stationery and equipment to assist them in their daily duties and to renovate police stations to ensure that the conditions under which officers work are in keeping with Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
That is why it is surprising that all the Trinidad Express could have seen is the shooting down of our Commissioner.
If we do not see Griffith’s attempt as a cry for help to set the nation right but see it as a strike against him, then the road ahead for us is bleak and violence and crime would continue to be the order of the day for a very long time. There was a time when officers used to be suspended with no pay, some with half-pay and should they win their matters before the court, they would return to active duty and be properly recompensed; in this way, the system worked.
Even in other fields of endeavour workers have been dismissed for less once the image of the organisation has been tarnished. Some years ago, a top Newsday reporter was charged for fraud and even before the matter was heard in court, the employee was dismissed and the image of the Newsday company remained intact.
I am sure that with any other large private or public organisations the response would have been the same.
If a Police Officer kneels on the neck of a citizen, as in a Minneapolis or Atlanta, and the person dies, will the officer be suspended on full pay pending an investigation and a court ruling? Or will he be fired immediately as happened in those two American cities? I guess that is the difference between an advanced country and a Third World country.
A Higher standard
One expects that the Police Service will be of a higher standard than many other organisations. Alas based on the ruling this is not so! How can we justify the loss we experience when an officer is suspended with full pay and is before the courts for nine years is found guilty of a crime which he committed?
How are we going to justify the payment he received for the time it took to bring him to justice?
Some suspended police officers committed serious crimes and retired even before their matters were heard and they were receiving full pay. What is even worse is that these officers, while on suspension, find gainful employment and now avail themselves to two salaries giving them an advantage not available to honest, decent and hardworking officers.
Before the Trinidad Express penned the headline “Gary Shot Down” did the editor take all of this into consideration? Did the editor understand how the current system makes corruption in the Police Service more attractive than being a cop with integrity?
There is no risk in doing wrong given the time it takes before you answer to the allegations and the benefit of pay and other benefits derived. How is it possible that 120 officers could be before our Courts awaiting trial and some for very serious offences and yet they are being fully paid?
Maybe to get the point across, the Commissioner needs to publish the list of officers on suspension and the allegations against them. Maybe this will awaken our sensitivities and we will then come face to face with the challenges our Commissioner of Police experiences daily in seeking to keep a tight ship and build an honest service.
Missing the boat
What irks me is that almost every day I am either reading about the Commissioner or hearing him struggle to sensitise the nation on the dangers we face, and our failure to act quickly and wisely to alleviate these threats. However, rather than view them as prudent advice, we see them as opportunities to align with other elements and demean a Police Service that we expect to serve and protect us.
It is our politicians who keep missing the boat because, in the Westminster System, they are the framers of our legislation. It is, therefore, time that they sit with ALL the stakeholders to determine what we need to enhance our security, to institutionally strengthen our law enforcement; because to simply sit idly by is not providing a solution.
However, of all the institutions, we expect the media to be fair to law enforcement and not to push back on efforts to keep us safe. We have to be careful what we write and ensure that the value it brings will act as a deterrent to wrongdoing and not lend sympathy to the deviant elements in our society.
It had to take the Commissioner to show us that at least two officers are shot at every day thus highlighting the dangers of their job. Police officers leave home, kiss their wives and children goodbye without any guarantees that they would not be the target of a gunman’s bullet and they do this for all of us, every single one of us. They try to keep us safe. Instead, the media’s focus is on the number of bodies that drop and disparage the police for not keeping our communities safe.
We keep check of the bandits whom the police have killed (according to the Trinidad Express the number is 32). No context speaks about how many officers and citizens’ lives were saved by the acts that resulted in the 32 police-related deaths.
Last Christmas, gunmen with high-powered rifles challenged officers in the heart of Port of Spain and mowed down innocent citizens in a drive-by shooting; we must remember that among the 32, were some of these very men who brought families so much pain.
The Commissioner’s heart is in the right place
The Commissioner may not always have the right solution but his heart is in the right place and his intent seems consistently pure. It is time that the good people of Trinidad and Tobago stand together with the ones who place their lives on the line to protect us. It is time for the judiciary to revisit the length of time it takes to bring suspended police officers before the courts.
And yes, it is time for the media to reassess what and how we report the news because if we fail at these crossroads, then we are doomed. After all, the opportunity for success would be forever lost.
Sorry to know that the Express got caught up with spurious wordplay and semantics at a time when Trinidad & Tobago needs the full support of its citizens.