While the crime statistics between 2008 and 2012 are not currently available on the RSLPF’s website, the RSLPF presented some statistics for 2012 at the press conference referred to (in Part 1). Published reports of this press conference in The Star and The Voice Newspapers suggest that the focus appeared to be on the detection rate, which at the time was 46.4% of the 21,459 reported crimes.
Figures regarding accepted crimes and resolved cases were absent from these newspaper reports. It should therefore come as no surprise when members of the public are highly critical of the RSLPF, and with repeated questionable use of force tactics, and detection and resolved rates of crime below 50%, it is highly possible the Saint Lucian public has lost confidence in the RSLPF. The loss of the support of the public is arguably the worst possible scenario, and it adds to what scholars refer to as the ‘dark figure of crime.’ This means that crimes statistics presented are in actuality not accurate and should be interpreted as a rough estimate because more likely, there are many crimes that are not reported to the police. Naturally, the implication is that the crime rate is higher than what is reported.
If one accepts that the RSLPF needs information from the public in order to detect and solve crimes, the RSLPF needs to alter its interactions with the citizenry so that trust and cooperation are restored. Drawing and firing weapons into crowded vicinities or accosting students in a physical manner for loitering or using lethal force on a mentally disturbed person as in the case of Mandy Louisy are not situations where effective policing was conducted. A back to basics approach is long overdue and that begins with employing what many scholars refer to as community policing. The following are three ways that trust and a working relationship can be re-established between the RSLPF and members of the Saint Lucian public.
First, policing prior to the 20th century was based on the foot patrol or ‘walking the beat’, with officers being assigned to specific neighbourhoods. Officers would cover distances and this would be his/her zone of regular work. By ‘walking the beat,’ police officers became very familiar with the community and its members. Moreover, foot-patrols allowed police officers to be physically a part of the community assigned to them. Policing is a highly sociable job and conducting patrols through the confines of a vehicle diminishes human interactions between officers and the citizenry. If policing operates purely through abstract encounters between police and community members, meaningful connections are difficult to form; thus there is a desire to control the public rather than to understand and protect them.
In the case of Mandy Louisy, it appears that several people knew that he had a mental disability. Had this been known to the police, perhaps their interaction with Mr. Louisy would have been different. This information could have been obtained simply by ‘walking the beat.’ The way in which communities are organized in Saint Lucia makes them ideal candidates for such patrols.
Second, the RSLPF’s reliance on crime statistics hinders their understanding of deviance and its effects on communities. Crime statistics do not measure criminal behaviour nor does they seek to understand why it happens. The current crime statistics measures the response to the RSLPF’s perception of crime. Renowned criminologist Joel Best argued, “[w]hen trying to understand social problems, we need figures we can count on, but we especially need to know what it is we are counting.”
Collecting crime statistics is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the users of these statistics could be misled into generalizing complex social issues. The RSLPF should therefore consider conducting research of a qualitative nature such as in-depth interview studies and focus groups. These types of studies would allow the RSLPF to pursue crime related issues in greater depth in order to develop strategies that are pertinent to the communities they patrol. A reliance on statistics dismisses the social, economic and cultural dynamics that contribute to persons breaking the law.
Third, the Police Complaints Commission (PCC) needs to be a completely independent body. While the PCC as presently constituted is said to be a civilian body, a special unit of three police officers have been assigned to assist the Commission to investigate complaints. Impartiality must be paramount when it comes to the PCC. It is a conflict of interest when police officers are in a position to investigate their colleagues due to the camaraderie developed between police officers. There is currently a Complaints Unit within the RSLPF, which the PCC is supposed to oversee to specifically avoid bias when a complaint is launched against an officer. If what the human rights observers claim as it pertains to impunity for officers is true, it sends the message that police officers act above the laws they enforce.
Primarily, members of the RSLPF are citizens of Saint Lucia and should be held accountable for criminal wrongdoing like other people. Allowing the PCC to operate completely independently from the RSLPF fosters transparency and gives the citizenry an opportunity to air the grievances in a civil manner. More importantly, this facilitates much interaction needed between civilians and the police.
It is important to note that members of the RLSPF perform their duties in high stress situations where the wrong decision can prove to be fatal. Police officers put their lives on the line for a living and for that, they should be respected. The fortitude it takes to pursue such a profession of this sort willingly is indeed unquestionable. However, this does not absolve police officers from accounting for detrimental behaviour that deliberately harms the citizenry.
Assuming that their training coupled with experience in the line of duty equips them with the tools necessary to exhaust all non-violent means before resorting to force in high stress situations, it is expected that members of the RSLPF should make a concerted effort to utilize force as a last resort when interacting with community members. Not all situations call for use of force tactics.
More importantly, when force is used, it is vital to remain skeptical simply for the reason that members of the RSLPF have the discretion to use deadly force. No formal policing organization should have carte blanche when exercising their duties otherwise addressing crime and deviance becomes an illusion.
It is ironic that some Saint Lucians resolve disputes in the same manner the RSLPF conduct their affairs. This scenario must be reversed to prevent Saint Lucian communities from plunging into further lawlessness.
“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”
– Sir Robert Peel.
David Myers is a criminologist and regular contributor to the STAR. He holds a B.A., M.C.A. in Criminology