CoP’s contract end approaches

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Erla Harewood-Christopher. –

It has been a little more than a year since Erla Harewood-Christopher was appointed Commissioner of Police, taking over from then acting CoP Mc Donald Jacob in January 2023.

Despite an extension in her tenure approved by Parliament in May last year, an appraisal by the Police Service Commission (PSC) is looming, one which will be instrumental in the PSC’s decision on whether or not it will suggest Harewood-Christopher as commissioner of police for another year and whether or not it will further extend her tenure as the approved extension ends on May 14.

Since her appointment, the COP has been under scrutiny, having set ambitious goals in reducing crime and receiving support from government in the form of an extension of her tenure, which was set to end three months after she was appointed COP.

However an extension is not a sure thing.

The COP has admitted to shortcomings, having failed to meet targets set at the beginning of her appointment and with confidence in the police reaching significant lows, but she has pointed to some improvements, including a reduction in serious crimes and an increase in seizures and recovery.

The question remains: has the commissioner done enough to convince the PSC to keep her on as commissioner for another year?

Missed targets

Early on, Harewood-Christopher expressed confidence in the TTPS’ crime-fighting methods under her leadership. At a Independence Day celebration at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain, she noted what she described as “significant results,” coming out of the year before, which saw the murder rate skyrocket to 605, the highest murder rate in TT history.

“The comparative homicide rate has reduced from an increase of ten per cent,” she said. “We are now at an increase of zero per cent.”

During her Independence Day speech she added that homicide rates in four of the ten divisions were lower than the year before and there were marginal increases in five divisions. Up to that point, serious crimes had been reduced by 11 per cent, shootings and woundings by 67 per cent, illegal firearm seizure by eight per cent and the police were successful in arresting 129 people in connection with home invasions.

However, at a joint select committee (JSC) hearing held in February, Harewood-Christopher admitted to falling short of targets she had identified and planned to achieve by December last year.

Harewood Christopher promised a 30 per cent detection rate for violent crimes, a 30 per cent detection rate for homicides, a 15 per cent increase in firearm retrievals, 15 per cent reduction in serious crime, a 20 per cent reduction in homicides, a 20 per cent reduction in violent crimes, 10 per cent reduction in larceny of motor vehicles, a 5 per cent reduction in traffic accidents and a list of arrests including 20 people charged under the Anti-Gang Act, 40 priority offenders charged and 20 priority offenders prosecuted.

However she admitted to the JSC that a majority of the targets set were missed.

She told the panel there had been a five per cent reduction in murder, a two per cent reduction in serious crime, a one per cent reduction in road fatalities, a 15 per cent detection rate for murder and a 20 per cent detection rate in violent crimes.

She also noted a one per cent increase in firearm recovery.

The murder toll up to April 23, Newsday understands, is 175. The toll for the same period the year before was 180.

Harewood-Christopher said the goals were too ambitious and targets were, as she described it, “exaggerated.” She said the exaggeration in targets was to motivate police to hit the targets.

She noted that the public’s support or lack thereof, was also a factor in the TTPS’ shortcomings. She said members of the public showed a lack of public confidence, and hence did not do enough to support the police in their crime-fighting efforts.

She noted that some actions committed by police officers who misbehaved in public office contributed to a reduction in police confidence but maintained that reducing crime required an all-of-society approach, not just efforts from the police.

She added that the police had taken an zero-tolerance approach to indiscipline among police officers, noting that 58 officers had been arrested for misbehaviour for the year up to the time of the JSC.

Former CoP Gary Griffith: ‘Don’t crucify Christopher’

Former commissioner of police Gary Griffith having gone through his own appraisals through the PSC, said the commission uses up to 75 different metrics to measure performance. Chief among these metrics are crime statistics and  their reduction, public confidence in the police, public confidence in the commissioner and the level of interaction between the public and the CoP.

He said it may not be fair to assess the commissioner on crime statistics because of the high rate of crime she inherited from her predecessor.

“If you inherit an increase in crime, it is virtually impossible for you in your first year to automatically change it. That is not going to happen,” he said.

He said if the CoP made changes to the service, the results of those changes might not take effect in the first year.

“In my first year after I inherited three years of constant increases it took a massive overhaul of the police service, with the Special Operations Response Team, the Gender-Based Violence Unit, the Social Media Monitoring Unit, the White-collar Crime Unit, GPS tracking on vehicles and so on.”That took a year to be fully established and it took another year for the public to gain trust in us. When the public started trusting us then we started getting information to prevent crimes,” Griffith said. “In my first year, crime increased, but in the second and third year you saw massive decreases.”So you can’t automatically crucify Christopher based only on crime statistics.”

However, he lashed the commissioner for her lack of public interactions, especially with the media, which he said has negatively affected the public’s confidence in her.

“In this year, what she actually did was hide from the media,” he said. “One of the things needed for people to be in league with a commissioner is for them to be accessible, which is why every Wednesday I would have meetings with the media, to be bombarded and cross-examined for three hours, because that builds confidence.

“She has hidden from the media because she does not know how to answer the questions and because she has nothing to tell them (with regard to actions taken).”

Newsday tried to reach Christopher-Harewood by phone, but was unsuccessful. Newsday also called National Security Minister, Fitzgerald Hinds, who asked for reporters to call back at a later time. However, subsequent calls were unsuccessful.Calls to Oropouche East MP, Roodal Moonilal, the opposition MP responsible for national security matters, were also unsuccessful.