Much of what influences and informs public discourse is perception, often formed (and fueled) by articles in the newspaper or stories broadcast on television and radio. Perceptions are then invariably re-enforced and repeated by others on our so-called “Marl Road,” and, sure enough, soon the whole country is abuzz about one matter or another.
At the moment, the topic of the day, understandably, is crime – murders, home invasions, burglaries, hold-ups, and a whole array of other antisocial mayhem.
Not surprisingly, with the list of crime victims growing, the public often looks for another victim – namely someone to blame, and understandably the most convenient target is always the person at the top, in this instance Police Commissioner David Baines.
In fact, Commissioner Baines reportedly is returning early from his vacation (Heavens knows he must need one) to take control personally of the deteriorating conditions on the street and the increasing anxiety among the populace.
While this is probably a wise public relations move (in a fishbowl society, optics are everything), it is unlikely to change very much.
After all, as cartoonist Walt Kelly reminded us in his Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
In fact, police can never be particularly effective in preventing crime. Their performance must be measured after the crime has taken place: the proficiency with which they gather evidence, interview witnesses, and ultimately make sustainable arrests.
But just because the police can’t do much to prevent crime, it doesn’t follow that they can’t do anything. They can.
One potential deterrent is to make themselves visible in neighborhoods that are prone to crime. That means getting out of their cars, walking around, interacting with the community and, most importantly, developing sources.
A refrain we’ve been hearing for years in this country is, “Where are the police?” If optics indeed count, a visible police presence is the ultimate optic.
We would also encourage the commissioner to revisit – no, actually to revamp top to bottom – his department’s communications strategy. Because the RCIPS withholds so much information from the public (too often on the one-phrase-fits-all excuse, “We don’t want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation”), the perception is that the police don’t trust the public – or that they’re hiding something. We can assure the commissioner that if the police don’t trust the public, the public will never trust the police – and currently too often they don’t.
Although the police are the most visible enforcers of the law, it is important to remember they form only one side of the law-and-order triad, the other two being prosecutors and judges. Certainty of timely arrests, prosecution and punishment is the most effective deterrent to crime.
Aggressive prosecutions and timely trials are essential to a well-functioning legal system, and one obvious example both makes our point and raises our concerns:
We are still dismayed that the allegations facing former Premier McKeeva Bush have been dragging on for nearly four years, limping along from an interminable investigation, leaked information, a subsequent arrest, multiple police and court appearances, delays and postponements. The trial, should it ever take place, is now set for September 2014 – nearly a year from now.
To us, Mr. Bush’s case is “Exhibit A” that all three sides of the criminal justice triad need serious attention.