Police Commissioner Erla Christopher at the TTPS centennial sports and family day, Police Training Academy, St James on Saturday. – Jeff Mayers
Whether you accept it or not, this is how Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher graded her performance for the first 100 days in office.
Speaking with the media at the police service’s centennial sports and family day anniversary at the Police Training Academy, St James, on Saturday, Harewood-Christopher when asked about her performance said it was excellent.
Sunday Newsday asked about her first 100 days to which she replied: “You have time to check 100 days? I have been busy working.”
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds who attended the event refused to comment on the commissioner’s first three months. Asked twice about it, Hinds ignored the question instead choosing to focus on the centennial celebration of the police sports and family day.
On the first occasion Hinds reminisced about his time as a police officer highlighting the police retreat where officers displayed their skills that he said will not only inspire him but others, as was done in his time.
Asked again about Harewood-Christopher’s tenure, Hinds said: “As I said we are celebrating 100 years of sporting activity that as the commissioner explained is no mean feat. And the TT Police Service must be celebrated and congratulated because we need them as an institution in this country to maintain our democracy, our safety and our security.”
With some of the participants in the march past saluting Harewood-Christopher, Hinds said he was happy to be there to celebrate her and celebrate with her. He said the various displays of “woman king” was the police and public’s way of acknowledging the triumph of women in the social and professional life.
Police move in on to restore confidence and peace after a rash of murders, arson and violence at the Trainline, St Augustine on May 10. – Jeff Mayers
Opposition not convinced
Oropuche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, when asked about Harewood-Christopher’s performance said: “After 100 days of Erla, I don’t think the country is appropriately happy.”
Moonilal and his colleagues all supported Harewood-Christopher’s selection when the matter was raised in Parliament on February 3. Of the 41 members of Parliament, 36 were present during the debate with Harewood-Christopher receiving a nod from all present, 19 government and 17 opposition members.
Also commenting on her time so far was Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial who questioned some of the strategies that the top cop put in place to grade herself as excellent.
“In 100 days of Erla we have had more than 100 or maybe 200 murders. How many have been solved? What strategies are being deployed to make people feel safer and to deter criminals? Issues like TT defence force ammo on crimes scenes, slow response from E999 units and the Brent Thomas affair continue to diminish trust and confidence in law enforcement, and it isn’t getting any better.”
Erla’s Crime Plan
After failing to attend her first joint select committee on crime less than a week after receiving Parliament’s nod, Harewood-Christopher boldly declared that there will be a reduction in murders by the end of June as a short-term measure and her long-term measure was to reduce the toll by the end of the year. At the end of 2022 there were 600 murders.
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds speaks with Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Chrsitopher during a functuion at the ODPM, Mausica, last month. – Jensen La Vende
The promise was made on February 27 at another JSC meeting. At the time the murder toll was 104 – 12 more than the corresponding period last year. By Friday, murders were 218, 14 more than the same period last year.
In her violent-crime reduction plan, the top cop hopes to reduce murders and violent crimes by 20 per cent, increase gun seizures by 15 per cent and improve the detection rate to 30 per cent by year’s end. The plan also spoke of a hope for a 30 per cent detection rate for violent crimes and a reduction in serious crimes by 15 per cent.
At a symposium co-hosted by the UWI Trade and Development Unit and the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers (CRBC) on March 31, Harewood-Christopher revealed a 10-point plan to reduce crime.
The two-year plan, she said then, included precision policing, focusing police resources to address violent crime, dismantle gangs and legislation, targeting communities with high reports of crime and the retrieval of illegal guns. The plan also sought to target transnational crime focusing on gun and drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering and cybercrime.
The crime-reduction plan, which was shared with Hinds in April, went into detail on how the top cop planned to reduce violent crime. Some of the initiatives will be to charge 20 gangsters under the Anti-Gang Act, arrest, and charge 40 priority offenders and successfully prosecute 20 priority offenders.
To dismantle gangs, the top cop said she will increase “substantially” the number of officers assigned to the gang unit and assign intelligence officers in each police division to collect and process intelligence on criminal gangs.
“Precision policing is the policing approach which allows us to focus policing effort and resources on those highly concentrated violent-crime people, places, and time (power few) for best results. It is the golden thread running through this violent-crime reduction plan,” she said.
Former national security minister and top cop turned politician, Gary Griffith said Harewood-Christopher inherited a runaway crime rate from her predecessor – acting CoP McDonald Jacob – so it will be difficult to judge her performance now.
Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher leads officers during a patrol on Carnival Monday downtown Port of Spain. –
Griffith, who was police commissioner from August 2018 to August 2021, said when he demitted office the country had one of the lowest crime rates in the past 17 years with a public approval rate of over 50 per cent, an improvement by over 30 per cent. These milestones Griffith said withered away when Jacob took over and handed Harewood-Christopher high crime and low public approval rates.
“It is difficult to judge somebody in a highly negative way if she inherited something based on improper leadership or management from a predecessor. People may want to criticise her because of the present murder rate, in contrast to what she had stated, when she said that you’re going to see a drastic reduction in June, and I made the comment and said that is virtually impossible.”
He added that Harewood-Christopher can do a good job, if she “decides to take away the political handcuffs that she has on.”
On May 4 Cabinet gave Harewood-Christopher her first one-year extension as she is legally due to retire from the police service on Monday when she turns 60.
Griffith said this may force her to be beholden to politicians in the hope of having her term extended as the law allows for a maximum of three one-year extensions. This, he said, has the potential to diminish the public trust and confidence in the police service if it is perceived that the top cop was bending to the will of politicians.
Former Police Service Commission (PSC) chairman Nizam Mohammed said Harewood-Christopher has shown she can rally her troops which will augur well for as she continues in the role.
“I think that one of her strengths is that she seems to be a person who has the capacity to rally the support of all those under her charge and she is in the process of doing so. We, therefore, have to be very fair to her and to give her a chance. And, to encourage her and give her the support that is required.”
Jacob echoed the sentiment saying the police service, and the country, must give all its support to the commissioner. He added that it does not matter if it is 100 days or 1,000 days, the crime-fighting apparatus must be supported by all.
Businesses willing to support
Co-ordinator of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers Jaishama Leladharsingh said the country’s first woman commissioner will need to develop flexible strategies to meet the challenges of the country’s “runaway crime situation.”
The TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce in a statement to Sunday Newsday said they are marking the commissioner’s 100 days “with cautious optimism” as she inherited a mammoth task of bringing run-away crime under control.
Criminologist Prof Ramesh Deosaran, also a former PSC chairman, said it will be tough to judge Harewood-Christopher on her first 100 days against the backdrop of the country’s crime statistics. Now that she has been given the nod for the next year, he said at the end of it a proper assessment will be done. He too asked that she be supported by her officers and the public.
“For the next year she has to show significant improvement in the murder detection rate, a renewed and more effective system of public communication and partnership, a visible accounting for treating with police corruption and indiscipline, reduction in gang activities and praedial larceny, and a demonstrative commitment to professional independence and impartiality. These are some of the criteria on which she should be judged at the end of her first year.
Like Griffith, Deosaran expressed concerns of possible political influence in her leadership especially now that she was given an extension.
“One of her great challenges will come from the political environment where crime has become quite politicised and her continued reappointment being politically driven, a process while quite lawful remains flawed given the presumed principle against ‘political interference.’”
Since being placed to lead the police service, Harewood-Christopher has had to oversee an e-mail bomb threat that shut down schools across the country, a judgment that her officers “abducted” a citizen from Barbados, the continuation of criminal probes into the issuance of firearm users’ licences under Griffith which were sparked by two reports, one commissioned by the Prime Minister as chairman of the National Security Council and another by the Police Service Commission, the refusal of frontline officers to switch on their body-worn cameras and her apparent lack of openness to address the media directly.
Her biggest criticism came after her call for theological assistance to fight crime. During her keynote address on March 15 at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce at Signature Hall, Longdenville, in Chaguanas, the commissioner invited the religious community to mix policing with prayers.
President of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO), Pandit Lloyd Mukram Sirjoo said Harewood-Christopher must turn her attention on her officers to address crime before she can be properly graded.
“Deal with the crime, deal with the home invasions. Control your policemen on the road, retrain your policemen. Do you have any statistics of how many crimes were committed and how many crimes we have solved for the year. As I see it, without data and without statistics, I am saying the commissioner of police doesn’t deserve an A at this time.”
Calls to the Police Social and Welfare Association president, ASP Gideon Dickson, went unanswered. Days before Parliament unanimously agreed to appoint her as police commissioner, Dickson said the association was prepared to offer its full support.
Leladharsingh said the confederation will throw its support behind the commissioner as she demonstrated she is able and capable to lead her officers and is willing to “give her a chance for the next 100 days.”