Rowley: Police Commissioner has Government’s full support

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister said on Tuesday he was supporting Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher in her post, just as he would do for any appointee on the job.

He did not say if this support would endure beyond May, when her contract expires.

Dr Rowley said Harewood-Christopher had been one of just three of the police top-brass able to pass a polygraph (lie-detector test) to attain the top cop post and had been on a committee which had published recommendations on the police service (TTPS), the final report of the Police Manpower Audit Committee: Now is the time; No sacred cows.

He was addressing a briefing at Whitehall, Port of Spain, after Harewood-Christopher’s recent lacklustre appearance before Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security chaired by Keith Scotland.

Rowley began by recalling that at last week’s briefing upon his return from the United States to meet State, energy and security officials, he had promised reporters to hold Tuesday’s briefing on the CoP.

But he said he had never indicated he was coming to Whitehall to fire any minister or commissioner of police.

Saying Harewood-Christopher was now on a contract within the Ministry of National Security which may allow certain actions, Rowley also said actions should “not be taken capriciously.”

He traced her appointment, which all MPs, including the Opposition, had backed.

“You would have seen our colleagues who now somehow would like to resile (withdraw) from their vote.

“Incidentally, I think she was one of the few who passed the polygraph test. When her name came up in Parliament, recommended by the Police Service Commission (PSC), she got the support of all 41 Members of Parliament. We were all taking a chance on the recommendation of the PSC.

“The Government’s position is that once the person is in the post, they can count on the full support of the Government, once you are in the post.

“There is no point in appointing a general to go to war for you, and (you) start undermining them the day after or whatever.

“We have taken the position that while you are in the post, carrying out the duty, while you are there, you can count on the full support of the Government, until that has changed.”

He said it made no sense to put somebody in a position and you then turn around and destroy their morale and undermine them.

“If it is that the person has to be removed at the end of the assessment or if they do something really outrageous, then so. But the population needs to support the police service.”

He said the public need not support police wrongdoing, and unsuitable officers should be removed.

Asked what happens when Harewood-Christopher’s term ends in May, he said the PSC would trigger a recruitment process by inviting applications to be CoP, which would later be put to Parliament.

Asked if he expected a new person as CoP, he replied, “I am not saying that. Don’t put words in my mouth.”

A reporter asked if he was satisfied with Harewood-Christopher’s performance, especially after the recent JSC.

Rowley replied, “I am not here publicly assessing the commissioner of police. I will not do that. As I said earlier, as long as the commissioner is in the post as commissioner for whatever period of time, the commissioner must have the support of the Government, whether it is for another day, another month, another year.

“So I am not going to get into whether I am pleased with (her) appearance in front of the media or whatever and so on. That is not the role of the Prime Minister.”

Replying to questions, he said he has had no interaction with the CoP since his return from the US last Monday.

“Except to say that she is in a very difficult situation. She has a very difficult job.

“Even if things don’t go as well as we would like on a particular day, that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water or behave as though her efforts are to be ignored.”

SUBHEADING: PM: Numerous issues in police service

The PM had begun the briefing by quoting at length from the Police Manpower Audit Report (headed by Prof Ramesh Deosaran), which said the police service in 2017 was in “a very troubled and wounded state.”

Saying the report’s authors had interviewed 500 police officers, Rowley said 47 per cent said the public has very low confidence in the service, 35 per cent said low confidence and 14 per cent had no confidence.

The PM said, “Ninety-six per cent of police officers said the police service could not command the confidence of the population.”

Rowley cited the report saying 42 per cent of police interviewees thought the police service has much or very much corruption.

He said officers have been suspended for periods such as seven, 11 and 15 years, with the report noting 307 suspensions for misconduct at that time.

He said the report noted a disciplinary system as being “in utter disrepair.”

Rowley said the report had urged the formation of a police inspectorate but lamented that a change to the law to effect this would need a special majority in Parliament, that is, the support of Opposition MPs.

Otherwise, he said the problem of recruiting police top-brass had been so acute that in 2010, the former government hired two Canadians, police commissioner Dwayne Gibbs and deputy CoP Jack Ewatski. Both men’s contracts were eventually bought out.

“Finding appropriate leadership in the police service ice remains a problem to today.”

He lamented that for six years, former CoP Stephen Williams was kept in his post by continued renewals due to nothing existing legally to trigger a new recruitment. In that period, criminals kept getting better and better, he added.

Rowley said the PSC was not a Government plaything but was named by the President.

“Not one is a person I have had any socialising with. I don’t know them,” he said, denying recent Opposition claims. He denied ever seeing a PSC merit list.

He said Parliament would soon consider three nominees to become deputy commissioner of police, plus another name just added to become an assistant commissioner, but that otherwise the PM has no say.

“We are all upset by criminality but we can’t disregard the law.”

Rowley quoted data from the police service CAPA website on murder-rate targets and actual results.

These showed last year Harewood-Christopher had targeted a 20 per cent reduction and achieved a 4.8 per cent drop.

This compared favourably to other rates from 2018-2022. These were respectively: five per cent drop target but 4.4 per cent hike seen (2018); ten per cent fall target but 4.5 per cent hike seen; ten per cent reduction target and 29 per cent drop seen (during covid19 lockdowns), five per cent drop target but 12.5 per cent rise seen, and five per cent drop target but 34 per cent hike seen (2022).

Rowley made the point that police discipline was outside of the remit of the Government, which likewise had no say over “the revolving door that takes place at the courthouse,” in an apparent reference to violent criminals getting bail.

He said, “This document shows we are not hiding behind excuses.”

The PM’s disclosure of low confidence in the police came on the heels of a recent report by the JSC on National Security, which said the general public has “a relatively low level of trust in the police.”

The report said just 42 per cent of people trust the police.

The JSC report said, “The lack of trust in the service also plays a significant role in the under-reporting of crime. Serious crimes went unreported by 39 per cent of victims on a nationwide basis in 2015.

“The lack of public trust has also negatively impacted public willingness to cooperate with the police service in other ways, including providing information and witness statements. Under-reporting not only discourages public confidence and lowers the public’s sense of security, but also can contribute to increases in crime and embolden criminality.”