It has become patronizing to hear politicians and others claim that the police are doing a good job. The truth is they are not doing a good job. Crime especially serious crime continues to increase seemingly unfettered. The police have been unable to mount one sustainable programme that has positively impacted the level of criminal behaviour. If we are honest we will admit that we are headed to anarchy.
In almost any other country if the crime figures had increased by 25% the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security would have been fired. But here in the Bahamas we reward mediocrity. For some twelve years Reginald Ferguson as a very senior officer was the officer on the Royal Bahamas Police Force who was directly responsible for crime. When you add this period to his tenure as Commissioner you can only conclude that he was a failure. Mr. Ferguson had every opportunity to implement new and innovative crime fighting initiatives but unfortunately he always seemed more interested in running interference for the political directorate. We have to effect a change in the culture of the force.
There seems to be very little discipline on the police force in recent times. The great majority of police officers work 9-5 and leaving very few officers to man the dangerous New Providence streets at nights. The overworked CDU and Mobile Divisions are the only ones who deserve any kudos. These are the officers who face the brunt of the mayhem on the streets and these are the men and women who are overworked and under appreciated. Most of the other police are under utilized and poorly deployed.
The primary problem with the police force is poor management. Future Commissioners must see their role principally as one of a manager. The first management problem to be addressed is the restructuring of the training system. The pressure to address crime has resulted in a tendency to graduate new recruits before they are properly trained. This is resulting in a rude and undisciplined force. The pressure to investigate the many serious crimes has resulted in sloppy crime scene investigation and interrogation methods. Too many criminals are being let go by the courts because of these two terrible trends. There must be a change in the culture of the force.
To make matters worse, the police of today do not understand the limits of their power and many believe that the uniform and their warrant place them above the law. This attitude must change as it manifests itself in corrupt action and abuse of citizens and the democratic institutions. The force must begin an evolution to a civilian institution. The first symbols to go should be the removal of those disgusting canes that sergeants and senior offices love and the saluting of senior officers by junior officers. There are other methods to instill discipline and a sense of authority. The FNM administration had the ideal opportunity to jump start this process when it passed a new Police Force Act. It failed to do so despite its publicly stated intention to rename the force the Royal Bahamas Police Service.
The in coming Commissioner will have his work cut out for him. He will ultimately be judged by the success he has in changing the culture on the force and by any success the society has in effecting behavioural change in the citizens. I wish to offer the following suggestions to the new Commissioner:
- The way to tackle the rampant criminal behaviour is to start with the streets. Bring order to the streets by clamping down on the indiscipline and chaos so pervasive on the streets in New Providence
- Any strategy employed must be sustainable and sustained.
- Put those men and women in kaki to work on the streets at nights and change their 9-5 culture
- Restrict police reservists to police stations and traffic duty as they are useless when used for crowd control and other policing duties
- Remove the several hundred retired and rehired police from the police service as they are poorly motivated and are a major source for division and resentment on the force
- The training manual must be revamped; the training of new recruits should include more on the job experience
- Recruits should not be enlisted until they have completed and passed their training instead of the current system of enlisting before training
- Every newly graduated recruit should be attached to an experienced officer rather than sending on the road raw and alone
- Accountability must be built in at every level and division
- The new Commissioner should find the strength to tell the prime minister as former Commissioner Salathiel Thompson said to Sir Lynden: Prime Minister you run the government and let me run the police force