Another fall guy

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics 11 Mar 12

 

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 police force).

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 this.

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 concerned?

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 time frame.

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 legitimately later.

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.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur