How the Commissioner of Police was likely assessed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this 2023 file photo, Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher attends a meeting of the Joint Select Committee on National Security, at Cabildo Chambers, Port of Spain. – Photo by Jeff K Mayers

In its annual assessment of the commissioner of police, the Police Service Commission (PSC) looks at numerous aspects of the commissioner’s performance, including professional policing skills, maintenance of law and order and serving the public.

Newsday tried several times to get a copy of the current assessment criteria for a CoP, but received no response from the commission.

There has been widespread criticism from the opposition UNC, business groups and other people over Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher’s extension in office until May 2025.

The results of Harewood-Christopher’s latest performance analysis by the commission were recently presented to the government and, according to acting Prime Minster Colm Imbert, her rating was “good.” The commission did what is considered a “360 appraisal,” where feedback was sought from key stakeholders.

Other possible ratings, he said, were poor, fair, very good and excellent.

Director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) David West, when asked about his assessment, said, “The CoP and I have had a very cordial relationship over the last year. I hope that this relationship will continue, as we liaise over matters within my remit as the director of the PCA.”

At a post-Cabinet briefing at Whitehall, Port of Spain, on May 16, Imbert said, “We have received a scientific report, done on a scientific basis on the performance of the police commissioner by an independent commission comprised of distinguished professionals. On what basis would we reject the rating of ‘good’ from the PSC? Because we would be rejecting the whole commission as well.”

As a result of that positive assessment, Harewood-Christopher was given a year-long extension of her position effective May 15.

While Newsday could not assess the current criteria, former police commissioner Gary Griffith shared his performance analysis, saying he does not believe the criteria would have changed drastically.

Under the heading of policing skills, a CoP was rated on qualities such as proficiency in managing and using resources, a sound knowledge of business and strategic planning, and the practice of performance management and continuous improvement.

Professionalism highlighted acting with integrity, delivering on promises, asking for and acting on feedback on their approach, continuing to learn and adapt to new circumstances, taking responsibility for making tough unpopular decisions and openly acknowledging shortcomings in the police service and committing to setting them right.

Police commissioners are expected to build public confidence “by actively engaging with different communities, agencies and strategic stakeholders, developing effective partnerships at a local and national level.”

Other expected qualities included: “Maintains public visibility and ensures communication; Considers the wider impact and implications of different options at a community and national level, assessing the costs, risks and benefits of each; Instigates and delivers structural and cultural change, thinking beyond the constraints of current ways of working, and is prepared to make radical change when required; Treats people with respect and dignity regardless of their background or circumstances, promoting equality; and Promotes a real belief in public service, focusing on what matters to the public and will best serve wider public interest.”

They were also expected to exercise disciplinary control over all officers except the deputy CoPs (this falls under the remit of the PSC), provide for the selection, training and professional development of staff, prepare budget estimates and control expenditure by appropriations, provide policy guidance and interpretation to subordinates, and oversee all emergency operations and take command to ensure that a management team responded to field operations.

Additionally, there were specific operational goals to be met in maintaining law and order, public trust and confidence, human resource management, financial management, strategic leadership, management and communication.

Goals include increasing the detection rate of serious crimes, reducing road deaths, recovering a certain number of illegal firearms, increasing the number of people arrested for firearm-related offences, a reduction in the number of court matters dismissed owing to the non-appearance of police officers, a set percentage of customers interacting with the police service being satisfied with the service they received, a set percentage of people to trust the police to be fair, and more.

On average, the police recover close to 1,000 illegal guns a year. In March, during a meeting of the Joint Select Committee on National Security, Harewood-Christopher said she did not meet the goal of reducing murders by 20 per cent, but by five per cent.

For violent crimes, there was a decrease of 15 per cent instead of the 20 per cent target. In response to a query, Harewood-Christopher said the targets were not met because they were “a bit exaggerated.” She said that was purposely done to motivate police to strive to hit those targets.

The latest survey by the PSC also saw public confidence in the police plummet to an all-time low of just eight per cent.

The previous appraisal also took into account goals such as managing performance, professional policing skills, executive policing skills, operational management, decision-making, working with others, serving the public, leading strategic change and financial management.

In a statement to Newsday on May 15, Harewood-Christopher, 62, said she viewed her extension as a continuation of her lifelong service to protect and serve with pride. And she was prepared to continue doing so as long as she knew she could make a difference.

“My service as CoP is based on my commitment to the realisation of the vision of the TTPS ‘To make every place in Trinidad and Tobago safe.’ That is a challenge that has been confronting us as a nation for some time, long before I assumed the office of CoP and it is one that I am determined to overcome.

“I welcome this opportunity to continue because, in my first year as CoP, I have been able to lay a solid foundation that has already begun to yield results. Continuing in the role will provide me with the opportunity to further embed these and other strategic initiatives that I am optimistic will produce the improvement and the relief that the population is demanding from the TTPS.”

She expressed gratitude to the commission for being “sensitive and very discerning of the work that has been done over the past year” when it came to sustainable changes and improvements to the functioning of the police service. She also thanked the police executive and rank and file, as well as stakeholders, for their support and confidence in her ability to get the job done.

Harewood-Christopher has the support of three substantive deputy commissioners, unlike previous CoPs.

Responding to criticism, she said, “Many preferred to find fail, criticise and condemn without facts or a basic understanding of issues, providing more head than light.”

She said will not allow criticism to “diminish my strength of conviction to act and make decisions in accordance with what I believe to be right and proper in any circumstance.”