COP Gibbs proves he’s no pushover

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics 18 Mar 12

 

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday when the first part of this serialised column/interview on the embattled Police Commissioner Dr Dwayne Gibbs appeared, this Sunday Guardian columnist appeared a voice in the wilderness, calling him a fall guy, questioning how a man who has been appraised as “fair” by the Police Service Commission has simultaneously been accused of a lack of leadership.

She suggested that we prefer to hound personalities, divert ourselves with blood sport than actually deal with our issues: poverty, illiteracy, abandoned children, absent fathers, lack of job opportunities, or bring sloppy governance into account. We attack personalities perhaps because as citizens we generally feel powerless. But the recent spectacular success of lobbying by environmental groups against quarrying near the Asa Wright Nature Centre is a heartening example that citizens are not helpless and our voices can bring about change if we wish to think and act to develop rather than tear down.

A flurry of columns and articles supporting the Commissioner followed, including one by a fellow columnist Pastor Clive Dottin who wrote he actually “felt like crying” when he saw the “ugly scenario” of the “assault” on Commissioner Gibbs and the editorials that speculated on who of his many detractors would succeed in firing him.

A Pandora’s box had been opened. People stopped me on the streets and said the fact that Gibbs reduced the murders by 25 per cent despite archaic legislation, corrupt officers, resistance to change to a 50-year-old system should be enough to let him just get on with the job without interference. Many online agreed that a man or woman in this country could be discriminated against because he is foreign, qualified and white.

People repeated what I have often heard—that sadly, rather than raise our own standards when faced with excellence, we rather bring someone else down so we don’t have to feel small or diminished ourselves. Last week too, the police chief and his deputy Jack Ewatski fought back, gaining the respect of the population by showing they weren’t pushovers by retaining the services of attorney Dana Seetahal, SC, questioning the Police Service Commission (PSC) on the fairness of the methods and criteria used to appraise their performance.

The salvos continue to fly from the Police Service Social and Welfare Association which has reacted with rage that the PSA has found no grounds to remove or initiate disciplinary action against Gibbs or his deputy. In an interview lasting over two hours last week, I sensed that Gibbs was squeaky clean to the point of being naive at the machinations and soft soaping of our superiors we are used to in this society. He comes from a country that largely lauds results, embraces change and gets on with the job without pandering to the fragile egos all around. So I suspect this attack on him from all sides, including the chairman of the PSA, Ramesh Deosaran, took him by surprise.

But beneath the cool exterior I suspect that Gibbs is as tough as a police officer can get. He’s engaged in gun battles with criminals and gone underground to do drug busts. He had the same look I recognise from running a marathon. Around 19 miles, feet bleeding, sun burning, throat parched...you think, dying is an option, stopping isn’t. Gibbs is a triathlete, an iron man racer. I’ve seen him run and he’s fast. A war of attrition will not work with this Police Commissioner. I predict he will go the distance, wherever that may be.

Part Two of this exclusive interview with Ira Mathur continues.

Q: Your deputy Police Commissioner Jack Ewatski and by extension you, remain at the centre of controversy for failing to inform the National Security Ministry about the $902,772 contract to a Tacarigua firm for 720 hours of use of the Zenith aircraft for a three-month evaluation.
A: I don’t want to comment on this as it’s under investigation.

Are you spending too much in general?

When it comes to looking at equipment, I don’t wake up in the morning and think, what shall I buy? As I said before, procedures were followed. HR, the heads of finance are heavily involved. Legal officers draw up contracts. I’ve got salaries to pay, and a finance department that reports to me. Contrary to spending, I am saving costs and increasing the effectiveness of the police force by bringing in IT and accounting experts to run a sleek and effective administration department that will support the service and sending police officers wasted in administration back to the streets to fight crime.

Why did you decide to lease this aircraft at all?

We brought in the plane for a 12-week period. I would be remiss to purchase equipment without testing it. Let me put this in perspective. I was in London at a trade fair looking at millions of dollars worth of policing equipment which other countries could and do purchase but would bankrupt small countries such as ours.

When I first came here we had boxes of tasers, electrical darts used as an intermediate force instrument which controls criminals without resulting in fatalities and officers don’t have to engage in a gun battle. When they were purchased it was a good idea, but there was no legislation, or training to follow through. They are still in boxes. Sautt gave us permission to use the helicopter last April, not as surveillance raft but as a mobile patrol working in tandem with the ground crew.

The helicopter as a first respondent was flying into the location of an armed robbery long before police cars could get there. We were very successful and had over 200 arrests with this. The light aircraft was tested as we understood it would be more cost effective and efficient, both in terms of fuel costs and the amount of time it stayed in the air. I am not buying because I am a loose cannon. I have not breached my spending authorities, and I’m looking at the best interest of T&T. I test every piece of equipment we purchase—fromaircraft to uniforms, down to belts and shoes.

Speaking of uniforms, you are being criticised for purchasing new uniforms and the hiring practices of the Police Commissioner ‘without proper application to the laws of T&T’. We are following procedures in every area. We are aiming for transformation in the police service which, when I started, was stuck in the 1960s type policing which is partially responsible for the unacceptable crime rate. Public confidence was at an all-time low with people fearing the police rather than expecting protection. Like it or not, change was/is necessary. In any change there is trepidation.

A few want to stay in their comfort zone and resist it, which is what those who criticise are doing. Others want to sit on the fence to see what is happening, but the vast numbers of officers are embracing the change. They are doing a regular shift, have home time and days off, realising that if we want results we can’t do the same thing we’ve done for the past 50 years.

We have brought back many retired police officers to our front counters to deal with the public which has worked really well as they also free up other officers to be out there on the streets preventing and dealing with crime. The current uniforms are heavy, of felt and wool material which gives our officers rashes. The new ones are contemporary, wash and wear, suited for the climate. And an opportunity to deal with gender issues so female officers will have the option of wearing pants on duty and skirts for formal occasions.

The new uniforms you will see are part of the 21st century deployment model and branding of the service. If a police officer can say, “I feel good in this uniform. I am proud to represent the T&T police force in this uniform,” that boosts the morale of the service. Our officers have a tough job. They need to be comfortable in uniform.

Where are the drugs and guns coming from? Young boys are daily lying in pools of blood. Who are the big boys?

I used to work as an undercover drug detective. The legislation in Canada allowed me to be out on a Friday night to work undercover as a drug pusher. My appearance would be different. I would be working with a 1,000 other officers doing the same thing. We used sources and informants to get the big guys. Drugs would come into Edmonton, an inland port in Northern Canada as a transhipment point. We had huge successes in these operations.

We are trying to do some of this in T&T and have had major drug busts but we are limited with lack of legislation which doesn’t allow us to get deep into tracking drugs. All our partners, customs, the Defence Force work to secure the border. The police work from within. It’s a complex issue. Drugs are coming from Colombia and Mexico so this is a global issue. T&T is in a unique position. On top of South America, in between North America, Africa and European states and nations.

There is a natural flow of drugs through this country. Our purpose is to slow down that flow. We did that during the state of emergency. We saw that once we began to tighten up on our security other countries in the region took the fall. When it got too hard to come to Trinidad and Tobago, shipments went though Jamaica or Antigua. If I am a drug trafficker I know I am dealing in a huge business, worth millions when I can ship kilos of cocaine, get it to West Africa and Spain. But I don’t want to get caught. I don’t touch it. I have networks of people to move it all the way down the chain. That’s how it works.

In depressed areas where there are no jobs, illiteracy, it is easy to say to young men without hope or a moral landscape, ‘here, take this, sell this.’ It’s an easy way of making a whole bunch of money pushing drugs. There are restrictions on what we can do. If we focus only on the interdiction of drugs, that’s band aid. Unless you kill demand we will never gain. The US is one of the biggest users in the world and we haven’t been able to get a handle on it. We need to catch the kids early, with education, all the way up to jobs and training so they don’t have to say I have to deal in drugs to cope, to live.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur