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21st century policing

Yesterday, a fresh corps of police recruits passed out from the Regional Police Training Centre in Christ Church to join the ranks of the Royal Barbados Police Force, as well as sister organisations in other regional jurisdictions.

We are sure, that like the hundreds who would have graduated from that institution over the decades, this batch is excited about the opportunities that will be presented for them to serve their country.

However, unlike many who walked the beat in years past, this batch, and we speak primarily of the Barbadian contingent, will have the added challenge of dealing with, at best, an increasingly uncooperative society, and at worst a population that is increasingly given to violence.

And while we recognise that these challenges are not peculiar to Barbados, the presence of the Regional Police Training Centre in Barbados means that this country ought to take the lead in ensuring that our facilities and techniques are at a level that is consistent with preparing young Barbadians for the challenges of 21st century policing.

While it may be prudent in an economy like ours with its limited resources to train persons for six months and provide them with a certificate and a guaranteed job, where salaries are on par with those of civil servants in clerical positions, our view is that this is no longer even close to an optimum position.

After so many years of talking and hinting, why don’t we in 2012 have a blueprint for transforming RPTC into a degree-granting college? We don’t doubt that the curriculum of the centre has changed over the years, but how can we be training police officers for duties in today’s complex environment in the same six months that applied a quarter century ago?

We go further: Why can’t we upgrade our systems to the level where entry into the police force requires the acquisition of a degree in police science or some similar qualification?

We do not seek to downplay or degrade the training that is now being offered at RPTC or the calibre of those doing the training, but rather to suggest that today’s society demands more of our police officers and in many ways we are placing them at a disadvantage when they are not conditioned to the highest level possible.

Those who travelled this road a generation or two ago talked about policemen who commanded respect through physical force — even at a time when a firearm was as foreign to our lawmen as a snow storm. In today’s environment though, with all the tactical weaponry that is available to them, often citizens will not even acknowledge the presence of police officers.

Across the globe we have ample evidence of the challenges those who swear to protect and serve will face while doing so. All Barbadians must be aware of the dangers inherent in a routine police patrol in parts of Jamaica; this week in the Bahamas the police association began lobbying for the right to retain their service weapons while off-duty; in so-called hot spots in Trinidad known lawmen dare not travel alone.

Add to that the presence of advocacy groups that scrutinise every decision of lawmen while on duty, with the intention of invoking every avenue for legal retribution/recourse if they stray. It would appear that while knowing the law and possessing strong physical characteristics remain critical, now more than ever the psychology of policing is pushing its way to the top of the list.

As we have said in this space on several occasions, those who dedicate their lives to the protection of society deserve our respect and support — and we will not turn away from that position. But if the level of training does not keep pace with, or perhaps even run ahead of, the environment within which they must operate, the opportunities for collision between the server and the served will multiply.

We congratulate all those who graduated from RPTC yesterday, and we hope that in the not too distant future we will be addressing graduates of an institution that is truly representative of the needs of 21st century policing.

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