Bureaucracy made work needlessly complicated: Financial mandate will make police force more effective

POSTED: 07/30/13 11:12 AM

Chief commissioner Peter de Witte is happy with the report from the visitation committee. File photo 2010.

Chief commissioner Peter de Witte is happy with the report from the visitation committee. File photo 2010.

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Bureaucracy has held the police force behind the scenes in a stranglehold ever since St. Maarten became a country, but with the arrival of Dennis Richardson as the new justice minister, this fallacy will finally come to an end. The minister firmly embraced the findings of the visitation committee that audited the police force in March and this means that Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte will soon have a decent financial mandate to enable him to run his organization effectively.

The visitation committee described the police force’s financial situation aptly in its report. “On the one hand the force hardly had access to budgeted resources, on the other hand there was a tiny petty cash of 1,500 guilders (a mere $838) that was made available upon request.”

The petty cash was usually exhausted after a couple of days and then the police force had to put in a renewed request for cash. “That procedure takes about three weeks,” the committee notes in its report. “The problems that occur as a result are at times solved by people who personally advance the money they need.”

Decisions about investments – even on this level – are needlessly complicated. They involve three ministries and at least three people per ministry. “Too much bureaucracy and a lack of sufficient mandate needlessly hampers the decisiveness of the force,” the committee notes in its report.

Chief Commissioner De Witte knows these situations all too well, but he is happy with the recommendations from the visitation report and certainly with the broader mandate Justice Minister Richardson will grant him. “For now it is a financial mandate,” he says. “The conditions have to be clear though. We have to regulate this properly.”

That the force at times needs money faster than the government was able or willing to provide it appears from this example. De Witte: “Suppose a crime victim has to be taken to Guadeloupe for treatment and he dies there. Then we have to go there to attend the autopsy, and that happens the moment the pathologist is available. Then you must be able to order a ticket and that requires many signatures. And yes, that has gone wrong on occasion in the past. I am confident that the minister will implement the mandate-regulation.”

Looking at the visitation report that was presented last Friday, De Witte says that the general picture that emerges from it is positive. “It contains useful recommendations. The legitimacy of the police is extremely important. One of the conclusions is that our legitimacy is growing. That is something we are not able to say ourselves; the same goes for the notion that there is more blue on the streets. These are conclusions from external observers.”

The Chief Commissioner mentions the development of the community police as another positive development. “I think that citizens and police have come closer to each other.”

Other recommendations in the report may sound dull to outsiders, but they are important for the men and women on the force. “The function-house – the description and assessment of functions – will give peace to the colleagues. There is a draft regulation for their legal position. That is for the policewoman and policeman very important.”

Equally important is the fact that the force will get its own Actpol software, after it was cut out of this system under the previous minister. Actpol is an electronic registration system that records all business processes that can be retrieved easily at a later date if necessary.

A remark in the report that the police are badly informed because the force is not hooked up to the country’s ICT-infrastructure will in the near future be a thing of the past, De Witte says. “We have asked for a link to the administration of the census office. That way we are able to check the correct names and addresses for our police reports.”

Most important is the way Minister Richardson looks at the committee’s findings. After all, before he took office as a member of the cabinet, he was the chairman of the visitation committee. “The minister is taking this report seriously and he will make the efforts to turn the recommendations into action,” the Chief Commissioner says.

De Witte admits that initially he thought it a bit early for an audit when the plan for the visitation came up. It is only three years ago that he took the job to lead the force through the first years of its existence under country status. “I am happy with what is on the table now,” he says. “We have seen opportunities in this audit. We are the only service that has been audited this way. It is also good that someone from the outside is drawing conclusions. We are not able to tout our horn about the positive developments we see, and we are sometimes blind for topics where there is room for improvement.”

The final strength of the force has been made a topic for discussion. In the plans of approach that strength is defined as 390 full-time units. “That is our point of departure. In the meantime some things have changed. The immigration task has been taken away and that represents 43 jobs. There is also a progressing insight into the development of the organization where we are talking about a full-fledged maritime branch.”

The Chief Commissioner says that it is possible to calculate the exact strength the force needs to be able to deliver the service the community requires. “for emergency help we used to go out with one car, but that is not acceptable. We now go with two cars. We need two cars on the Philipsburg side and two cars on the Simpson Bayside. We are a 24/7 service and you have to take into account factors like vacation, training and absenteeism through illness. We are now looking at reaching our administrative strength in 2017, though the final number could be different from the assumption in the plan of approach.”

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