THE POLITICS OF CRIME By STEPHEN WALWYN CHMN, NCAI When you live in a society that is as politically polarized and sensitive as obtains in St. Kitts and Nevis, you dare not make political statements without ensuring that they have very strong foundations and grounded in facts so clear that either Mount Liamigua or Mount Nevis would be only a shadow of its height. Short of the provable facts, there must be an overwhelming collective of perceptions and experiences of the citizenry such that the average man on the street finds an assertion easy to accept. Otherwise, making a case of any kind becomes very difficult indeed. The biggest obstacle of course is the fact that the country is always split down the relative middle along political lines. The nature of politics and humankind is such that facts, issues, the perceptions and experiences of others are always filtered through one’s political bias and preference. However difficult it is therefore to make the case, it is about time that something be said about the situation with the Royal St. Kitts and Nevis Police Force, one of the country’s most important institutions. For quite some time now, the Police Force has been terribly politicized and hence its impotence at times. The Force has been politically interfered with and, of course, as a result, does not function the way any of the citizens expect it to insofar as being well managed and comprising a group of disciplined, motivated and well trained, efficient and effective officers. Now, for what grounds these assertions, here we go. Officers have reported of having been disciplined by the political directorate when they don’t comply with political directives or instructions that when objectively evaluated, are given with political objectives and agendas. Apparently, officers have been promoted because of their political ties or connections. Many of these promotions have deeply affected morale in the Force as their fast-tracked promotions leave standing co-workers who are not only more deserving because of years of good (sometimes outstanding) service and hence more senior, but who have been expecting similar promotions. Officers who have been treated unfairly and who have been victimized by this brutal treatment leave the Force prematurely (with lots of good training and expensive resources thrown down our nation’s drain), or they are no longer motivated to give of their best to the Force and regrettably to the people they were put there to serve. Top ranking officers further report that they have had their personal and professional integrity severely compromised by being directed to carry out instructions that were illegal, immoral, or just plain unethical and terribly out of harmony with the professional standards that they once cherished and swore to uphold. One or two over the years held steadfastly to principle and refused to be browbeaten into being used as mere political pawns. Others, regrettably the vast majority, bowed down and went along out of fear or just plain personal and professional expediency. Simply, it was easier to go along with the directive because it meant promotion, favor or avoidance of being victimized in any number of ways in a very small society. The closer one gets to the top the smaller the society appears. This is a fact that holds true in any part of the world. Evidently, officers have been “punished”for just plain being in the wrong party, refusing to follow political directives by being sent away from their comfort zones and asked to serve across The Narrows in the other island…..or just for refusing to follow the bidding of a leader or a particular party in power, not necessarily “political”. Now, while this state of affairs which has been perpetuated over a long period of time in our Federation cannot necessarily be considered to represent a set of “facts”per se, it is as real as the noses on many faces. In point of fact, these situations represent the perceptions of many officers in our Royal St. Kitts and Nevis Police Force who have told of their experiences and/or what they know to be the experiences of those lying in the foxholes next to them. More, if you take a poll of a significant majority of the officers who will be comfortable enough to be honest with you (almost an impossibility because of understandable fear, the corrosive environment in which they exist and the general untrusting and cynical environment of the community in which they live) they will tell you these things. These situations not only help to explain the conundrum we find ourselves in with very slow if any progress on the crime fighting front from police and government, but they sadly tell of some of the deeper underlying issues which belie the largest national, economic and social issue with which we are now faced, that of our security and crime. Our descent into crime and violence is a result of inattention to the Police, treating the Force as a political outpost by the incumbent political party combined with neglecting the development of our social institutions and programs. We invested in a system that is now yielding returns on that investment, yet we appear surprised and even alarmed at the yields. Politicians must allow the Force to be run as a professional body and equip it with all that is needed to make it successful. Those elements include choosing capable, creative leaders for the Force, not based on political expediency or solely on seniority. (This commentary is not intended as an indictment on the present leadership of the Police Force but most definitely an indictment on the inclinations and practice of our political leadership.) The top brass should be chosen based on qualifications, ability and their influence and ability to command the respect of most of their officers and the community. All officers, regardless of rank, should be offered incentives, rewards and disciplined when appropriate. The political leadership should not rest until they diverted a significantly greater amount of resources toward the improvement of the working and living conditions, morale and appropriate tools to effectively carry out the awesome responsibilities with which our officers are faced. They should be provided with proper oversight and supervision, with objective evaluation criteria utilized. They should then be left alone, without political interference, to carry out the essential work of providing for the nation’s security without fear or favor, integral to their motto.
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