forget the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana.
With those prophetic words, I wish on behalf of the Secretary General
of the Caribbean Community to express our appreciation for your participation
in this historic activity. I am certain history is being made with the
gathering in a single place of the men on whose shoulders fall the full
responsibility of the Region's Security. Whether we are here by accident
or design, we have been entrusted with the responsibility to craft strategic
recommendations to solve the problem of crime and violence in our societies.
I trust that history would not judge us too harshly.
Because life is lived forward but understood backward, I have been tasked
to put into some perspective the framework for what we are going to do
over the next three days. At the risk of sounding somewhat academic or
referring to matters, which are all too familiar to you, I will attempt
to lay a theoretic framework within which we ought to see our work here.
In reflecting on the origin of policing, I am reminded of the words of
Allan Brent who postulated that:
"If men were perfect, there would be no need for formal agencies
to guard against human behaviour detrimental to lives, property and well-being
of society. But the human race is not made up of angels; it depends on
the civilizing influence of the family, the church, schools and other
institutions to regulate behaviour. And where those institutions prove
inadequate and incapable of fulling their role, especially amid the socially
dysfunctional stresses of urban society, the maintenance of order and
safety necessitated the creation of police agencies by the state".
Cognizant of the history of policing and its many characteristics, which
have had a most profound impact on the lives of people over the years,
I wish to mention just five to remind us of the unique nature of the institution
of the police and the peculiar relationship between the police and politician.
Firstly, that the police have been the symbolic personification
of the political system. Every policeman not only symbolizes
the authority of the state by allocating and distributing order in the
community according to culturally and legally defined norms of proper
behaviour, but he also possesses the capacity to decide which acts violate
the norms. If a government is repressive or totalitarian, so will be the
police. If the police are repressive, it will be a direct reflection on
A second characteristic is their visibility. The police
are the omnipresence of government authority, which makes them a very
visible target as the alter-ego of the politician.
Another characteristic is their multiplicity of functions.
The police have traditionally functioned beyond law enforcement. They
fill the vacuum created by the breakdown of more specialized agencies
of social control by acting as their surrogates. For example, the police
in the Caribbean have historically been pacifying domestic disputes even
though they may not constitute breaches of the law.
The fourth characteristic is their discretion in performance
of their duties. This discretion, as recent events have shown us, does
not only relate to their exercise of authority over people at the wrong
end of the law but they can exercise that discretion in withholding their
services from the politician or Government, at times with impunity.
The final characteristic, which I would wish to mention at this point
in time to remind us of whence we came, is the police's monopoly
on legitimate use of force. Only the police have the power to
use coercion in the arrest process, and even the use of violence in making
I make reference to these characteristics to establish the inextricable
linkage between the politician and police. Too often have we seen or learnt
from the press of differences between the police and politician. This
is more so the case when public criticism is being leveled at them. What
is fast becoming the norm in some jurisdictions where blame is consistently
and persistently targeted at the police and politician, is the development
of what I call the "not-me-syndrome" in which we blame each
One does not need inside information to know that a cycle of blame
has become part of the psyche of the Caribbean culture. The people
blame the police for criminal activity, sometimes they
accuse the police of collusion and direct involvement. The police blame
the politicians for not giving them the resources to do the job. The politicians
blame the police for their inability to control the situation
and their failing at times to understand the economic circumstances which
limit the resources available. Oftentimes the people blame
both the politicians and police; and I would not be surprised if the time
will come when politicians and police will blame the people.
This cycle of blame is often played out in the public domain with the
"terrible" press, which makes the life of Ministers of National
Security, as well as the law enforcement agencies, a misery. In every
jurisdiction, there have been press reports in which the police have been
criticized. In several Member States, there have been calls for the heads
of Ministers of National Security, some have called for the heads of Commissioners
of Police and in others there have been calls for the heads of them both.
Several editorials have called for reform of the police.
The catalysts for reform in most police forces around the world are found
in the outcries and protests of the public of the dissatisfaction of police
performance and/or behaviour. Between 1979 and 1981 there were two incidents
in Toronto which provoked such public outcries the Canadian authorities
were forced to reform their procedures regarding complaints against the
police. They were the 1979 fatal shooting of Albert Johnson, a Jamaican
immigrant in Canada and the 1981 "bathhouse raids" of the gay
community in Toronto by police (McMahon and Ericson, 1984). The alleged
"set up" shooting of NYPD Officer, Frank Serpico who went public
with his story when he feared for his life after he refused to be part
of the wide-spread corruption of the New York's Police with illegal gambling
operations in the mid-sixties, led to some fundamental police administrative
reform in New York City. The public outcries in the Region have been persistent
and consistent. They have reached the highest levels. Early this year
at least two Prime Ministers have publicly called for a regional approach
to deal with the situation. Ours is the task to identify that approach.
At the national level, Member States have been trying various initiatives
with varying degrees of success. We must learn from each other, and as
such an opportunity is provided in the programme for us to do just that.
The search for answers and solutions has been and must be an on-going
process. You all know, much more than I could ever begin to understand,
how stressful has been the job of Ministers of National Security and Commissioners
of Police in search of answers. Sometimes I get the feeling that some
of us have taken the advice of the Maori woman to the lonely soldier from
New Zealand who was given a task with no resources.
A story is told of a soldier in New Zealand who was ordered to build a
bridge across a river without enough men or materials. He stared along
the bank looking very glum, when a Maori woman came along asking "Why
so sad, soldier?" The soldier, perhaps not unlike some of us with
a task to do but without the necessary resources, explained to the woman,
who came from one of the native tribes in New Zealand, that he had been
given a problem for which there was no solution. Immediately, she brightened,
saying "Cheer up! Soldier. No solution, no problem".
Ours cannot afford to be the lot of that Kiwi soldier. We have to find
the solutions. We have to break the cycle of blame if
there is to be restoration of peace and confidence in our political leadership
and police by the people.
How can we break this cycle of blame? How can we restore the peace and
confidence of our people? How can we truly embrace reform? I wish with
respect to submit that the answer is in this room.
I wish to suggest that the cycle of blame can only be broken with what
I call "the building and holding of a coalition for change".
A coalition which is in your hands to build and hold. Symbolically, I
wish to refer to the partners of the coalition by my five fingers, for
five P's. These are the Politician, the Police,
the Professors, who through their scholarship and research
must help us find the solution and not be like the Kiwi soldier, and the
Press with whom we would have to work together to hold the coalition with
the fifth and most important P, the People.
No coalition, however, can be built and held together without the requisite
and committed leadership. This seminar must be viewed as the first gathering
of the leadership group of the coalition for change - the first three
P's - The Politician, the Police and
the Professors. If we cannot find the much needed solutions,
I wish to submit not only would we have failed, but we would be doomed
because there could not other gathering in the region capable of finding
the solutions, and history would surely judge us harshly.
In searching for the theoretical basis for our action, and realizing the
constraining dominance of the literature by Western writers who had put
great emphasis on the Western/Freudian view of the police, I sought, through
some secondary research, for some lessons from the past in the various
pre-colonial communities. One such was the African Indigenous Communities.
Even though some of us in the Caribbean who claim African heritage may
or may not have conscious knowledge of some of the common socio-cultural
ethnic determinants which make us what we are, in other words, why we
do some things the way we do them, a close examination of what some social
scientists and historians have come to recognise in the African Indigenous
societies as a "basic and guiding ideology... embedded in our traditional
philosophy and constitutional system." (Williams, 1986: 161), can
provide some answers.
In examining different versions and modifications of the same laws, which
occurred in pre-colonial societies and still pertain to some extent in
the traditional village environments both on and of the African Continent,
lessons can indeed be learnt from the past. The following six guiding
principles have been extracted from the African Traditional Constitutional
and Customary Laws. (Williams:171) to illustrate their significance to
community policing of today.
The people are the first and final source of power
Community consensus is the supreme law that anyone
could ignore at one's own peril
The King has absolute power only in the context
of carrying out the will of the people because supreme power rests
in the people
Each family is jealous of its honor and image in
the community and any member whose behaviour reflects unfavourably
on the family would be in trouble with their own family first of all
Each family policed itself so there was little
or nothing that the community had to do
Individual freedom is unlimited until it clashed
with the interests or welfare of the community
Even though these could be viewed as ideal situations,
which do not bear any resemblance to today's reality, I am certain you
would agree that these belief principles could be used to evaluate the
advantages and disadvantages of community policing practices today. For
example, if there is no sense of community, there can be no felt responsibility
on the part of the individual to adhere to what may or may not be concerned
as being in the interests of the community. A pre-requisite would be the
creation of a community spirit within small neighborhoods. I would, however,
not venture further on this issue but leave it to the experts like Professors
Bayley and Deosaran, who are the authorities.
In closing, I would wish to suggest that we use as focal points in reviewing
our policing strategy what have been known as the generic elements of
organisational strategy in the development of the police institution.
The Authorisation of the police. Should the police authority
flow from the politician, the law, police professionalism or the community?
We must consider these factors.
The second is the Definition of Police Function. Should
police function be crime control or the provision of broad social services?
The third is their Organisational design. Should police
organisations be centralized, decentralized, or flat task-force type matrices?
Fourthly, is the Police Relationship to their environment.
Should this relationship be intimate or professionally remote?
Fifth, is the Demand or Market for Police Service. Should
this be perceived as something centralized, decentralized, or political?
Sixthly, is the Tactics and Technology. Given the level
of technology available, should police tactics be focused on preventative
patrolling and rapid responses, foot patrolling or problem solving?
And finally, is the Expected Outcome police work. Should
these be crime control, citizen and political satisfaction, or improved
quality of life and citizen satisfaction?
During this seminar, these elements will underlie the presentations and
discussions. I suspect that there will be a natural tendency to stay within
the bounds of the tried and tested. At the risk of being naïve, I
would like to invite us to be imaginative in our thinking and frank in
our discussions, and let the greater good guide us in our deliberations.
What may appear to be untouchable or undoable now must not prevent us
from giving serious thought. Let us adopt the old adage, "What the
mind of man can conceive and believe, he can achieve" because, remember,
we cannot afford for history to judge us harshly.
I thank you.
BRENT, Allan Edward. The Politics of Law Enforcement: Conflict
and Power in the Urban Communities. (London: Health and Company 1974).
McMAHON, Maeve W. and ERICSON, Richard
V. Policing Reform: A Study of the Reform Process and Police Institution
in Toronto. Centre of Criminology. University of Toronto.
WILLIAMS, Chancellor. The Destruction of the Black Civilization.
WTP Third World Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1987