INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS BY F. E. LIVERPOOL, COORDINATOR, RCM,
TO THE EXECUTIVE SEMINAR OF
MINISTERS OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND COMMISSIONERS OF POLICE
ON REGIONAL ANTI-CRIME STRATEGY
(Kingston, Jamaica 28-30 October 1999)

 
"Those who 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". (Brent, 1974)

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 the politician.

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 arrests.

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 other.

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. They are:

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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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
 
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