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The Police, the Missing and the Public

Published: 
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Nikisha Winter-Roach

The number of people listed as “missing” in this country continues to fluctuate.

In each case, the circumstances are different and there is never any guarantee of a positive outcome.

Recently, however, there was reason for hope.

Five days after she went missing, bank worker Nikisha Roach was found wandering in the Edinburgh 500 South community where she lived by neighbours.

It was reported that she was dropped off by the individuals responsible for her disappearance.

While information in this case is still being collected and investigated, what may have played a significant role in her return was the quick action by her family who sounded an alarm very early in the situation in both the mainstream and social media.

Not without good reason either, as Roach fit the profile of several of the women who went missing in this country over the last few months.

Whatever happened in this case, the number of eyes looking for Nikisha would have increased.

The number of privately owned and managed media platforms now available to flag cases of missing persons has increased significantly.

The traditional waiting time to declare a person missing, is no longer a consideration for families desperate for the return of their loved ones.

There was also the case of Keshava Sookraj, a doctor attached to the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA).

His family, also in distress, followed a similar course of action. Sookraj was also found and returned home.

Both these cases, however, have shed light on a matter that has been debated for a long time. Many have questioned whether the T&T Police Service is doing enough to solve cases of missing persons. In the age of web-first and social media platforms, it seems that the public itself, is playing a greater role in being its brother’s keeper. And let’s be clear, this is a good thing.

Being our brother’s keeper however, in no way absolves the police of its core function, which is to keep Trinidad and Tobago safe.

While “partnership” lingo has been included in many a platform speech, the bottom line is that the security agencies in this country don’t always seem to be on top of the matter of missing persons.

This, even though the T&T Police Service itself has in the past inundated the media with reports of missing persons (and even what appear to be cold case files).

One look at social media on any given day reflects concerns about whether the local police service is using technology to its advantage, whether its communication system is strategic and effective, whether officers can get access to criminal records in real time, and whether they have the tools or training to collect evidence, so the detection rate for the biggest worry for citizens - murders - doesn’t remain around 20 per cent.

The process for reporting missing persons in this country is simple enough.

Reports are made at the district police stations and initially dealt with by officers there, before information is passed onto the Public Service Unit and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (AKU).

The Public Service Unit has perhaps the most significant role in the recovery exercise, since it is responsible for disseminating the information to the public.

We are told statistics exist which suggest there have been some successes with their current initiatives.

So when it comes to cases of missing persons in Trinidad and Tobago, the bottom line seems to be this: crime is a major factor in this country, and every time someone goes missing there is no telling how or where it will end.

It forces everyone into action. What we do acknowledge is that in the current environment, and with the tools they have, it is going to be impossible for the police alone to solve all cases of missing persons.

That said, is it fair for the onus to be on the police alone to address the issue?

Or is it more likely, trite as it sounds, that a continued vigilant partnership between the police and the public will yield more and better results?