Recently, the prime minister, the man of silence who claims to be knowledgeable about our history, declared that although we need more police, Barbadians would not be happy being policed by non-Barbadians. This may well be true, but if my analysis is right, Barbadians are the most committed Caricom supporters of all the nations affiliated to that regional body. We have always had a sizeable population of St Lucians, Dominicans, Vincentians and other Eastern Caribbean people living among us. They are our brothers and sister and we are proud of them. More important, since the abolition of slavery the main Barbadian export, along with sugar, has been people: to Bermuda, the Bahamas, St Kitts, Guyana, the US, Canada, the UK and elsewhere. Even to this day Kittians still talk of Barbadian police, Bermudans of our police and prison staff, the same for the Bahamas. Vieux Fort, in St Lucia, has a population mainly descended from Barbadians, the Panama Canal was built with Jamaican and Barbadian labour. So, although the prime minister may be speaking a recent truth, it is one that he should discourage. Leadership is about leading public opinion, not just playing to populist prejudices.
Police Organisation and Management:
Although it is true that our police are not given the status and remuneration that they deserve, a lot of the problems they face are down to poor management, poor training and poor use of resources. Let us take, for example, the ever-expanding headquarters, with its sclerotic bureaucracy. At head office alone, the police have one commissioner, one deputy commissioner, four assistant commissioners, seven senior superintendents, nine superintendents, 15 assistant superintendents, 42 inspectors (yes that is correct), six station sergeants, 12 sergeants, ten constables, 25 clerical officers, 12 telephone operators. This army of bureaucrats are in the main a drain on taxpayers. Where Barbadians need police officers – uniformed officers and not muscle-bound young men in baseball caps chatting up young women – is out in the community, talking to ordinary people and reassuring them that things may look bad, but compared with the rest of the world, even with Trinidad and Guyana, Barbados is a haven. Good management could prune the fat cats in police headquarters, in their brown uniforms, sitting behind their expansive desks,and get them out in the streets where it matters.
We can get rid of two assistant commissioners, three senior superintendents, three superintendents, seven assistant superintendents, 21 inspectors, three station sergeants, six sergeants, 12 clerical officers and all the so-called stenographer/typists, and still function competently. Computers have made it easy for police to type their own letters, using a pro-forma model, so why employ typists when they could be re-trained as police officers. All that would give an immediate saving of over $3.6m, which could be put in to funding frontline policing. As someone who has worked in the British tabloid press, I fully know the hysteria when a tourist is attacked or robbed, which, is wicked and cannot be tolerated. But, in the real world, worse things happen at the average football match or Saturday night at pub closing time. The bottom line is that our criminal justice policy must be focused on the protection of ordinary Barbadians and not the demands of tourists. If a tourist becomes a victim of crime and the British press screams out, then face them down.
The new police strategy should be based on traditional communities, with a network of new stations and sub-stations set up throughout the country, headed by an inspector, with a team of station sergeants, sergeants and constables. For example, in the Pine and Deacons. They should be responsible for all crime investigations up to a certain level, after which, along with serious violent crimes, it should be handled by a separate detective agency. The district teams should be tasked with knowing every man, woman and child on their beats, where they work, go to school, every thing about them, including what they had for breakfast. I would also separate the traffic police from the main service with its own reporting line management and get them out on the streets controlling the massive and needless traffic jams and ZR hooliganism. I would also divide up responsibilities for crime investigations, with customs taking responsible for all drug investigations (since most illegal drugs enter through our borders), immigrations for tracking down illegals, leaving the uniformed police in charge of ordinary burglaries, domestic rows etc.
In terms of training, the first six weeks of a basic three month course would include recruits for the police, customs, immigration and prison services. The curriculum for those first weeks will be a generic one: self defence, basic criminal law, how the criminal justice system works, powers of arrest, etc, with each team going off for specialist training for the final six weeks. It is this lack of basic policing strategic skills which manifest themselves in many ways in Barbados, not only in ordinary street patrols, or in major crime investigations, but in the small and irritating things that can catapult a community from being law abiding and peaceful to one that loses all respect for the law.
Take, for example, the chaotic traffic jams already mentioned that can last an entire morning. Of course, this is mainly a problem of planning at the top policymaking level, but what can you say when a senior police officer goes on television, in what the service no doubt believes is a public education programme, instructing the public how to drive at roundabouts. It is comical. Or, again, a senior office on television warning homeowners that crime was so prevalent that they needed CCTV to protect their homes. Both courses of action were nonsensical. You do not build roundabouts then hope to instruct the public how to drive around them without the presence of supervising police officers.
But, then again, Barbadian drivers being the best in the world, especially if the other driver is in a vehicle with an H registration, do not need any training.
Reorganising Security Forces:
The other aspect of reforming policing is to take a long hard look at the Defence Force, which is largely superfluous to the needs of ordinary people. I would disband the Defence Force, keeping on a few officers and NCOs, re-form a powerful volunteer Regiment to tale over the national and RSS commitments of the Defence Force, transfer the existing soldiers mainly to the police, with some going to the Coastguard, who will be given a new and reinforced remit to protect our territorial waters. Working closely with the Coastguard will be a small, but highly trained National Security squad, modelled on the US Navy Seals and the British Special Air Services. The squad’s task will be to take out terrorists, major drug smugglers and others who threaten national security. They will not have powers of arrest. They will be the last line of defence and given the legal authority to take out any state enemies the state. Selection will be from the existing services and by invitation; it will be tough, and only the brightest and fittest will be even considered.
They will be trained in all the combat disciplines, including parachuting, the martial arts, close fighting, diving, the full range, and let loose on the drug smugglers, terrorists and other illegals entering our territorial space. The one thing they will not have authority to do, unless invited by the Attorney General and security authorities, is intervene in any criminal act internal to Barbados. And, most important of all, they will have minimum training contact with the US or UK military.
Analysis and Conclusion:
In the context of modern Barbados policing social profiling is just as repulsive as the racial profiling you get in New York, California, Washington, London, New Haven, or Toronto. Picking on a disadvantaged group because they are outside the mainstream, because of social status, mental health, race, religion, location or whatever, is as criminal as violence or theft. And, no decent and tolerant society would accept criminals terrorising communities because they are in uniforms. This get tough, no nonsense model of policing is the one which is becoming dominant throughout the Caribbean. To build a tolerant and socially cohesive society, antisocial behaviour, no matter where it comes from, must be challenged and confronted.
Of course, if decent, law-abiding Barbadians feel the drug ‘problem’ is out of control, then that must be taken seriously. But to put illegal drug use in Barbados in the same league as Mexico, for example, where 50000 people have been slaughtered over the last few years, including hundreds of law enforcement officers, is to indulge in reckless posturing. To even pretend that drug use is anything like it is in the Bronx, or LA, or Georgetown, or even Brixton or Notting Hill in Britain, is to be self-deluding. A growing, but minority, number of young Barbadians are using illegal drugs, mainly marijuana, and small doses of cocaine, more out of boredom than anything else. We know this from the number of people who failed the Defence Force’s drug test recently.
But the big market for global illegal drug use remains the United States, and in particular white, middle class, professional Americans. It is a problem that the US has successfully exported in terms of convincing the world that it is their problem. When Latin American cocaine dealers find it difficult penetrating the US, they shift to Europe, next in line in terms of wealth, but that is only temporary. The Caribbean is a trans-shipment route, not a final destination.
The way to combat this geographical convenience becoming a real problem is to develop a policy in which drug use will be medicalise, while drug smuggling and dealing will be treated with the toughest sentencing on the books. The little street guys, who deal a bit in order to subsidise their own use, will be treated lightly if they cooperate with the authorities: giving the authorities information on their big wholesalers or face the full weight of the law. It is quite clear that unemployed guys on the block cannot afford the price of drugs, as sold in Europe and the US.
The criminal justice authorities, in particular customs, immigration and the police, should concentrate on the super-rich on the West Coast who import their containers with cheap tat, while having huge amounts of drugs concealed in them; they should concentrate on lifestyles, those living above their declared incomes, and compel them to account for every asset, and if they cannot, then seize them as profits from crime. That equally applies to those who run businesses as fronts for currency and drug dealing.
The long-term threat to Barbados’ internal security, however, will not come from the boys on the block, or the old plantocracy. The sleeping danger is from the so-called New Barbadians, who in time will assert themselves in a brutal and nasty way, challenging everything about our traditional way of life.