October 16, 2003
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Over the years there have been several examples of the lowering of entrance qualifications for various institutions to accommodate what has clearly been a general fall in performance levels. In his testimony before the Disciplined Forces Commis-sion in Berbice, Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Slowe gave the most recent example of this phenomenon. In his testimony, Mr Slowe said that recruits only have to pass a basic test to enter the force without any other qualifications. The required pass mark for that test was 50 to 55 per cent but Mr Slowe indicated that this had been lowered to 45 per cent, without any adjustment to the level of the exam. In other words, entrance qualifications had been lowered even further and admission made easier because otherwise there wouldn’t be enough recruits to keep the force from shrinking. He went on to say that the police hierarchy had coined their own unflattering phrase to describe such recruits.
Mr Slowe went on to note that the acting Commissioner of Police in Trinidad and Tobago had recently indicated that he intended to approach the government to increase the level of qualifications there from not less than three CXC subjects to not less than five. It gives some illustration of the gap in standards that now exists between the two countries. He further said he was horrified to learn that a policeman here was only paid an extra $50 a month for every CXC pass he possessed and that there was a proviso that whatever the qualifications he might have, the incentive payment could not exceed $200.
The main question that seems to arise from the evidence of this experienced senior police officer is whether a better class of applicant would be attracted if salaries and/or allowances and/or other working conditions were improved. Mr Slowe’s suggestion that allowances for better qualified recruits be made more attractive may contain a part of a possible solution. That way, basic entrance qualifications can remain very low while giving better educated people an incentive to apply. What is not clear is what level of incentive will be required to attract reasonably qualified people to this job, which can hardly be seen at the moment as a job of choice for the bright teenager emerging from the secondary school system. Other employers have in recent times had the experience when seeking to employ someone that if you set the job qualifications at all high you get very few or no applications. Though there is high unemployment, it does not seem to be easy to attract qualified people. Either there are not that many around or their level of job expectation is unrealistically high.
This is one of the practical issues the Commis-sion will have to take into account, how to improve the quality of recruit, of whatever ethnicity. Regrettably, because of deteriorating conditions of service for about the last three decades, compounded with political interference which was at its height in the seventies and eighties the status of a job in the police force is not what it was in say the fifties.
The problem of falling standards has been with us for a long time. It did not start with this government and it has not ended with this government. An eventual solution must include dealing with this issue, gradually perhaps, by increasing incentives, improving the working conditions and making a job in the police force a little more prestigious than it has become. The force is a product of our society. Given all that it has endured it is remarkable that there are still men in it trying to do a fair day’s work with some integrity. An important question is - can these men, and women, and potential new recruits, be given some level of encouragement by making a career in the police force more attractive?