Caribbean Nation Seeks Help in Police Force Overhaul

Posted: June 8, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 5, 2009 at 4:36 pm

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Stephen Mastrofski. Creative Services photo

Stephen Mastrofski. Creative Services photo

In 2004, the government of Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean democracy of 1.3 million people, was looking for help. Faced with a rapidly rising homicide rate and declining public confidence in the police, it reached out to Mason policing expert Stephen Mastrofski.

The Trinidadian government was considering implementing COMPSTAT, a technological management system. But Mastrofski concluded that a technological solution was premature.

“The government needed to change fundamental things about the organization,” says Mastrofski, who is also director of Mason’s Center for Justice Leadership and Management. “It needed a functional bureaucracy, rather than one mired in procedures dating back to its 19th-century colonial experience as a constabulary police force under British rule. Purchasing COMPSTAT would have been like putting a band-aid on a patient in critical condition.”

A Comprehensive Program Provided by Dozens of Experts

Mastrofski instead offered a comprehensive program that included experts in community policing and law enforcement professionals.

Over the next four years, Trinidad and Tobago invested millions of dollars into revitalizing the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, a national police agency of approximately 7,000 officers and 72 police districts.

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More than 70 researchers and professionals have played roles in the overhaul, including Mason faculty and experts from Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Justice and Safety, the firm Justice and Security Strategies and a number of other universities.

The funding has been funneled into consulting, training, technical assistance and research, with the later component residing at Mason.

One of the greatest challenges facing Mastrofski and his colleagues was transforming the police culture “from an occupying force, which is what it was in colonial times—it was there to make sure indentured servants and others who worked on the plantations didn’t cause any trouble—to police as public servants,” he says.

By changing the culture and improving police interactions with the public, Mastrofski and colleagues anticipated the result would be less fear of and more confidence in the police.

The Model Station Initiative is one of the large-scale projects begun under the effort. It involves five model police stations and five comparison stations. Selected because of their high crime rates, the locations of the model stations are culturally different and geographically distributed around the island.

“The model stations received all kinds of things that the comparison stations didn’t,” Mastrofski says. “More resources, more people. Also, much more training on the fundamentals of police work and street-level supervision. We located American law enforcement professionals on site as field advisors to work day to day with the people in the model stations.”

The consultants also assisted the Trinidadians in implementing procedures that would help them become the functional bureaucracy Mastrofski prescribed.

Another innovation for the police service was standardized paperwork.

“There were no accurate data,” says Mastrofski.

Using the Results to Advance Knowledge

So far the Model Station Initiative and the data it has generated over time have provided the basis for numerous reports to the sponsor.

“There were some implementation challenges. It was difficult to get needed resources and new policies and practices actually carried out,” says Mastrofski. “But positive changes are occurring in ways that we have been able to measure, and this is encouraging.

“It’s remarkable to see the impact that some very committed change agents can have within the police service. The transformation is a work in progress, and we are glad to have contributed to the changes that have occurred.”

As work in Trinidad and Tobago comes to an end, data are being analyzed and additional reports are being written. Mastrofski believes there is much to be learned from this project. The scholarly and informational publications stemming from the research are just beginning, including two dissertations and a thesis on community efficacy, gangs and fear of crime.

“Trinidad and Tobago wanted to solve its crime problem,” says Mastrofski. “But we are a unit that believes research should be policy relevant. In this case, the needs of the client came first, but we are also doing [the work] in such a way that we can use our experiences to advance knowledge.”

Mastrofski is the author of “Policing for People,” published by the Police Foundation and used as a model in several departments in the United States.

This article originally appeared in Mason Research 2009.

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