Another Police Station has been commissioned, but crime and criminality continue to dig in.  In a year or so, the people of Carenage will have an improved structure and a few policemen will benefit from promotions or transfers, but what will be the impact on crime and lawlessness in the prime minister’s constituency, and indeed in the country?

The fact that he chose a police station instead of a secondary school signals to me that the prime minister’s focus is more on crime and punishment than on developing the human potential. Instead of awarding another multi-million dollar contract for the new police station the money could also have been invested in improving the training offered to the recruits to the police service.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is joined by Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Police Commissioner Gary Griffith at the Carenage Police Station Sod Turning Ceremony.
(Copyright opm.gov.tt)

It is a harsh reality that the police and the bandits are drawn from the same pool.  In order to change the mindset of the police, we have to train them differently. Anything less than a three-year training programme inclusive of isolation from their communities will have little meaningful impact on changing their work ethos and ethics.  Integration of police officers into their communities is absolutely beneficial, but it can only work when officers have been re-trained and understand their primary roles and responsibilities to the wider community.

The police officer of tomorrow will have to be trained to become critical thinkers skilled in communications and instilled with integrity, service and empathy. Training these values requires long-term intense exposure to achieve the human transformation that is necessary.

The Prime Minister could have also allocated our limited resources to replicating the successful Bishop Anstey High School East (BAHSE) and Trinity College East (TCE) experiment. These schools opened in 2001 as ‘model schools’ under the auspices of the Anglican Church.  After 10 years in existence there is a low transfer rate out and a high parental perception that these schools are schools of choice for their children.

The replication of such model schools in the western peninsula could provide an exceptional educational experience for hundreds of young people. If you improve the quality of the educational experience of 1,000 people annually, that is 1,000 fewer people annually with the potential to turn to crime.  When will we understand that developing people is more useful than bricks and mortar?

Photo: Schoolboy in class.

The Carenage police station brings to three the number of police stations being constructed in the north-west with Diamond Vale and Saint Clair under construction.  Adding a new police station will improve the person-to-police-station ratio even though our experience is that increasing the number of police stations has not reversed the scourge of crime.

There are already nine police stations in the greater Port of Spain area, roughly bounded by the Morne Coco Road, Saddle Road and Piccadilly Street, and each of them is within a two-mile (3.2km) walking distance from another station.  Carenage is surrounded by the Army and Coast Guard on one end and the Four Road Police and Western Police stations and could be well served if these were effectively managed.  In this ‘guava crop season’ when money is scarce, my choice would have been to invest my resources in a school for Carenage rather than build another structure which focusses on punishment and incarceration.

These are the nine police stations to which I am referring:

  • Belmont
  • Besson Street
  • Diamond Vale
  • Four Roads
  • Maraval
  • Police Headquarters
  • Saint Clair
  • Woodbrook
  • Western
Photo: Besson Street Police Station (Copyright Ministry of National Security)

This list does not even include Traffic Branch, Criminal Investigation Division and the Police Barracks.  The lesson in this for me is that if we continue to focus on the bricks and mortar and not the people, the epidemic of crime and criminality will intensify.

In the short term, law-abiding citizens will continue to be ‘sitting ducks’ for the bandits while guns, drugs and murders continue to dominate the headlines.  What is missing for me is any signal that there is a planned, centralized strategy aimed at changing the way we do things. Our future will only be different if we change the present and that requires the articulation and communication of the strategy for change.  The current method of repeating past strategies will not have any impact. When our focus moves from bricks and mortar to behaviour change, our society will change.