These are some of the images that come to mind when
I think of Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs—pilloried. Pinioned under a
juggernaut. Hounded. The Police Service Commission is after him, calling
him “disrespectful”, declaring his leadership “terribly lacking” and
giving him a clearly reluctant “fair” on performance. (I don’t get how a
man lacking leadership in what is probably the most important job in
this crime riddled country can have a “fair” performance, especially
when that performance is directly linked to leadership of a 6,000-strong
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has distanced
herself from him following his decision to lease an aircraft by quoting
the Solicitor General’s Report in Parliament, saying he “acted without
authority in the procurement in the aircraft”. The Opposition ruthlessly
questioned his academic credentials (since cleared), succeeding in
rubbing his face in the mud some more.
Former parliamentarians have been writing to the
senate questioning his “gross tardiness” over Udecott and Calder Hart
investigations. The most recent addition to the bandwagon is Navi-Comm
Avionics Ltd (NAL). The company has sent pre-action protocol letter to
Gibbs, demanding that he declare the contract he issued on December 29,
2011, to TTAS null and void and of no effect with cost.
There seems to be an unhealthy fight for his blood
and bones as speculation grows whether it would be the PSC, the Minister
of National Security, Brigadier John Sandy, or the Director of Personnel
Administration (DPA) will eventually fire him. In the year I’ve known
and interacted with him as a journalist, he has come across as a
thoroughly decent and competent man who knows his stuff. He told me once
that in Canada he didn’t even accept tickets to a game because that may
appear like a bribe.
In this most recent interview I could tell
instinctively that here was another fall guy. Easy game because he is
white, qualified and a foreigner. I have been around long enough to
remember when the crowd, besieged by crime, would call for the blood of
various ministers of National Security such as that of Howard Chin Lee
who was neatly sidelined to that of Minister of Tourism or something
equally bland when the people wanted results.
More people know Gibbs than they know of the
Brigadier, John Sandy, the Minister of National Security. A high ranking
UN official recently told me she was shocked at the way we regularly
hounded personalities, found scapegoat after scapegoat for cheap
publicity as blood sport to avoid talking about the serious issues
facing the nation. We went after Gibbs so we didn’t have to deal with
concrete issues of the young men being regularly found in pools of blood
in our country, of the unsafe streets, of illiteracy, of abandoned
youth, of a country eviscerated by guns and drugs.
I interviewed the embattled Police Commissioner
last week and produced some excerpts in this first of a two-part series
which should give us an insight into the man and why if we fire him, it
would be probably the biggest mistake we could make as a nation.
Q: Did you get a culture shock when you came
to T&T as Commissioner of Police nearly two years ago?
A: Yes, I may never fully understand some norms of behaviour
because I did not grow up here. I have never used culture as an excuse
for anything. I arrived here on a Saturday night and Monday morning I
was at my desk. Jack Ewatski (deputy police commissioner) and I didn’t
know who to turn to for support. But two years on, with serious crime
dropping by 25 per cent, we know we can count on many in the Police
Service who are committed and dedicated.
The bigger shock was finding that policing here was
like being thrown back to policing in Canada in the 1960s and 70s, with
an absence of technology, computers, cell phones. It worked well in post
colonial times but it has been flat lined since independence. There was
some technology here, much of it unused, not linked. Modern systems were
not in place, had not evolved. To bring crime fighting in T&T to the
21st century has meant that we have had to build systems, linkages, and
processes from scratch.
In Canada I can stop a speeding vehicle, punch the
licence plate into a computer. It tells me who the owner is, whether
there are any warrants out and whether the driver is the owner. It is
linked to every licensing branch country wide, across the states. If the
vehicle is stopped again later the system pops us to say it was stopped
an hour ago by Gibbs at that location. If the car is stolen it’s on the
command list countrywide. Legislation, manpower and technology supports
The first time in T&T when we were tipped off on a
vehicle, I sat back and watched to see what they were going to do. There
are no linkages so the police miss an incredible amount of intelligence.
For instance, there was an abandoned car at the PM’s residence. We
seized it. It took all day to find the owner and discover it had broken
down and the owner was intending to recover it. The challenge is to
update the police service with a limited budget.
What is your relationship with the chairman of
the Police Service Commission Ramesh Deosaran? There have been reports
of a “growing trend of disrespect” displayed by yourself to the Police
Service Commission (PSC).
The comments are disparaging. We have a common
purpose, an effective police service. We have and do work together but
we are climbing the mountain from different sides. We have separate
roles. The PSC has the role of oversight. My role is to ensure the
police service is working, implementing strategies and creating an
environment our officers can work in.
The Police Service Commission rated yours and
your deputy Ewatski’s performance as “fair,” while saying leadership was
“terribly-lacking.” Do you agree?
Performance reviews are necessary to organisations
but it is a personal process to us all and I prefer to keep it that way.
As for my leadership, I am fine with it. I put the people we serve and
the police force first in terms of all I do. I am single minded yet I
have a very open style. I consult with all the stakeholders. I have a
very pragmatic perspective. I am not at all political. I am decisive. It
has got me results—a lower crime rate and a police service that is on
its way to being updated to the 21st century.
Let’s talk about the plane imbroglio. The PM
said in Parliament that procedures weren’t followed.
I won’t comment on the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament. The
lease of the plane is being looked at by the Police Service Commission
and legal officers.
Did you follow procedure as far as you are
I haven’t breached my spending authorities.
Contracts were drawn up which involved the HR and finance departments.
The entire nation is asking what is happening
with Calder Hart and the Udecott investigations.
I can’t get into the investigation for obvious reasons. But fraud
investigations such as these are convoluted and complicated. We are
dealing with boxes and boxes of evidence that had to be minutely sifted.
It’s a massive undertaking on which we have worked tirelessly. That
said, investigations are almost 90 per cent complete. I can’t give you
an exact time frame because the last ten per cent may turn out to be the
most complex and I will not compromise on accuracy in the interest of a
We have among the highest rates of murders in a
non warring country worldwide. People say crime is down only nominally.
In the midst of all the hysteria, rumours, about your performance, about
crime, what are the hard facts regarding criminal activity? What have
you achieved in your two years here?
My record speaks for itself. There was a 25 per cent decrease in serious
crime in 2011 across the board including armed robbery, larcenies and
homicide which was down by 20 per cent. In ’09 there were about 500
murders. In 2010 there were 473. In 2011 it dropped to 352.
People say the state of emergency was a waste of
time, that you arrested people without evidence, only to let them go at
great taxpayers’ expense and embarrassment all around and when it was
over, crime went up again.
The SoE was a great success. We arrested 2,000
people, many for substantive crimes. The 240 people arrested under the
anti gang and drug trafficking legislation and those charges remain. In
the context of 2,000 people this was a small number. The problem was the
anti gang legislation came into effect on the 15th of August and was not
retroactive. We had only one week to show their affiliation with gangs
and all previous evidence was not considered.
We did the right thing. We let them go but we
gained enormous intelligence from the people we detained, where they
live, their affiliations and so on. Just because they’ve been released
doesn’t mean we’ve quit monitoring them or we won’t get them
You weren’t even here when it was announced.
That didn’t look good.
That’s true. I was in Brazil, invited by the EU to
a meeting of international chiefs of police to sign an MOU between
several South American countries and the EU to deal with the
interdiction of drugs. It was a gruelling trip. I was on a plane for
most of Friday and Saturday. I flew back on Monday. Between the time I
left and returned, the SoE was announced.
Are you in danger of buckling under
this pressure? Isn’t it easier to pack it in and head back to Canada?
I was hired to do a job which I took on with a passion of a mission—to
reduce crime in T&T. I am unwavering in my focus to improve policing in
T&T. I can’t tell what the future will bring.