Paul Thompson is the quintessential policeman. His career spanned the modern development of The Bahamas - from colonial times to the challenges of nationhood.
Born in a small farming village in Trinidad, he was recruited by the Royal Bahamas Police Force in 1951. He spent most of his time on the force in the Criminal Investigation Department, retiring in 1981 as an Assistant Commissioner.
He then began a second career as head of security for the Paradise Island Resort & Casino, returning to the police force as a civilian training officer in 1998, and in 2002 was appointed general manager of Wemco Security.
Five years later, he set up his own security company - Paul Thompson & Associates. Now in his 80s, he remains active in security work.
While total protection is never possible, the police are doing a fine job in many areas of crime prevention and the public can help, Paul Thompson says . . .
The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) that I was a part of for 30 years was created in 1840, when the House of Assembly passed an act establishing the first uniform system of policing in the country - with a force of 17 men.
The RBPF was organised along similar lines to the Metropolitan Police in London, which had been founded 11 years earlier as the world’s first modern police service. It had about 1,000 men.
During my time on the force, selected officers were sent to top police colleges in Britain for advanced training. These included Bramshill and Hendon Colleges, the West Riding Detective School and the Scottish Police College. The objective was to improve our skills so we could make a greater contribution to effective policing at home.
Effective policing includes tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, putting victims first, protecting vulnerable people, dealing with terrorism and organised crime, and maintaining public safety. Keeping people safe has to be a top priority if we are to preserve our quality of life. In search of personal security we have turned our homes into fortresses, developed all manner of new technologies, passed comprehensive laws, and established highly trained police forces.
Unfortunately, total protection is quite unattainable. There is the old adage “where one man can go, so can another”. There is no such thing as an un-pickable lock or an impenetrable strongroom, any more than there is a military position that cannot be taken by force. The best we can do is to make the task as difficult as possible and to present the criminal with enough risk to act as a deterrent and to improve the chances of detection.
The causes of crime are many, including declining morals, changes in family life, drug abuse and so on. As Commissioner Ellison Greenslade noted in his 2016 policing plan: “There is no discounting the adverse effects that illegal drugs, the abuse of alcohol, gangs, teenage pregnancy, disengaged young adults and other social maladies have had on our country.”
But, in my view, much of this can be boiled down to human greed and the desire for quick wealth and easy living.
It is universally agreed that the best deterrent to crime is a strong and effective police force. But the criminal will always have the advantage by being able to choose the time, place and method for his crimes. So the police response has to be both flexible and effective. And the public has to become better acquainted with prevention measures - including the latest technologies.
The RBPF has done remarkably well to contain the criminal assault on our society. Officers have performed valiantly and huge progress has been made in public relations and media support. This has enabled the Commissioner and his team to achieve some success, as evidenced by a four per cent decrease in serious crimes against the person in 2015.
The police approach focuses on prevention, the preservation of public order and the speedy detection and arrest of miscreants. Officers try to make it as difficult as possible for crimes to be committed in the areas they patrol.
The basic mission of the police, as established by Sir Robert Peel in London in 1829, was to prevent crime and disorder. This has not fundamentally changed, but the methods used certainly have. Police are more mobile, have better communications and greater technical skills than ever before. As society has evolved, so has our approach to crime.
Tremendous developments have taken place in Bahamian policing. Perhaps the most notable are the specialist police units, like the Drug Enforcement Unit, and the reduced time it takes for police to get to the scene of a crime. Technical standards are also improving as we strive to keep pace with the latest innovations.
The old system of patrolling a beat was often criticised because it was difficult to contact the officers on patrol when needed. This meant that additonal officers had to be kept in the stations to deal with emergencies. Radio communication has eliminated this drawback and there is a formidable argument to expand beat patrols as part of a universal system of policing. Beat patrolling tends to improve the community service provided by officers and provides an important link to the community. This encourages residents to accept their own responsibility to help the police perform their duties.
The high drama and tragedy of murder and mayhem are not the only issues police have to contend with. Although it might seem odd, in terms of magnitude traffic control overshadows every other police task. Practically everyone in a community is affected by traffic in one way or another. And the police are inevitably involved whenever a problem arises - from illegal parking to vehicular homicide.
Traffic control has become more difficult for the police and subjects them to pressures from many sources. Officers must try to prevent accidents and diffuse congestion. They must have an understanding of the purpose of control, the factors involved and the methods to be used. Most importantly there must be adequate and intelligent legislation, a willingness to enforce the laws, and measures to control the influx of vehicles into the country.
For example, we could control the movement of heavy equipment by designating specific times for movement. We could ban buses from certain streets in the city. We could introduce a points system for the suspension of driving licences and implement tougher tests for new drivers. Recommendations like these have been made over the years, but they were never acted upon.
But public opinion can help to bring about positive changes. There is no denying that police action against criminals would be ineffective without the active support and co-operation of the public.
Over the past decades Bahamian police have demonstrated competence and courage, and by and large they have been able to win the confidence of the people they serve.
In recent years there has been a notable effort by the police to train more specialist officers. And this has resulted in a better criminal detection rate, as well as a reduction in certain types of crime.
It is the responsibility of the Commissioner’s team and his planners to keep abreast of changing circumstances, to take account of emerging issues, and to formulate priorities for more effective policing.
The Commissioner’s 2016 policing plan identifies the following priorities:
• The prevention and detection of crime.
• Reducing the fear of crime.
• Maintaining public trust and confidence.
• The safety and security of the public.
• Working with young people.
• The protection of the tourist industry.
• The efficient management of resources.
As the plan noted, police work is dangerous and demanding. And the force will place continuing emphasis on properly equipping officers to perform their duties more effectively.
NEXT WEEK: the need to upgrade our chaotic public tranport system.
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