Mason Experts Called in to Help Improve Policing in Trinidad and Tobago

Posted: April 29, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

When Stephen Mastrofski, director of George Mason’s Administration of Justice Program in the Department of Public and International Affairs, was contacted by Trinidad’s Ministry of National Security last March to provide recommendations for the country’s police force, he had no idea of the scope of work to come. One thing was clear, however—Trinidad had a public safety crisis in the form of a skyrocketing crime problem, including drug and contraband trafficking, homicide, and kidnapping.

Stephen Mastrofski
Stephen Mastrofski

What began as an initial consulting gig for Mastrofski—a leader in his field—has grown to a Trinidadian $5.7 million (U.S. $900,000) contract with a team of experts from Mason and other universities. The charge: develop and implement a new government plan aimed at reforming the country’s police force, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). More than a year later, the group, led by Mastrofski, is knee-deep in its work, with a goal of stemming violence and making the police force more accountable to the public.

The team has two areas of focus: creating a solid police force and providing them with the tools and data needed to do their jobs.

Edward Maguire, associate professor in George Mason’s Administration of Justice Program, is teaching two undergraduate courses on Strategic Crime Control to police middle managers in Trinidad through Mason’s Office of Continuing and Professional Education. The courses are designed to highlight successful crime control interventions and allow the participants to select, evaluate, and develop an implementation plan for an important crime problem in their area. Trinidad police officials will then select the best plans for implementation.

Jeffrey Snipes, a professor of criminal justice at San Francisco State University, is working closely with Maguire to improve the quality of Trinidad’s crime data. This aspect of the contract aims to provide newly trained officers with the right technology and tools to do their jobs. Another member of the team is Charles Katz, a professor at Arizona State University, who is an expert on gangs and the law enforcement response to gang crime.

Yet another component of the project is a large-scale training operation, to be provided by the Pennsylvania State University’s Justice and Safety Institute (JASI), headed by Donald Zettlemoyer. JASI will provide on-site training to more than 1,000 TTPS personnel in the areas of supervision, management, customer relations, and training techniques.

Other George Mason faculty members in the Administration of Justice Program supporting the work include Jonathan Gould, assistant director, and Catherine Gallagher and Devon Johnson, assistant professors. They are working on improving the prosecution of criminal cases and establishing a system to accurately measure the performance of the Police Service’s efforts to reduce crime.

To date, the team of experts has developed a number of recommendations to improve Trinidad’s police force, including:

  • Developing more accurate and usable crime records

  • Creating evidence-based plans for strategic interventions against violent crime

  • Implementing and evaluating a community partnership to deal with violent crime

  • Enhancing training and accountability within the organization
  • Improving the efficiency of the police complaint process

  • Developing a culture based on integrity

  • Evaluating officers based on their performance

“Our work in Trinidad has been rewarding, but it has not been without its challenges,” says Mastrofski. “We have learned that change is not easy. Not only do you need a strong plan to diagnose needs and solve problems, but you also need to mobilize within the organization the will to carry out the plan. Thankfully, we have been getting tremendous support and cooperation from all levels of the organization and are confident that this project will be a success.”

Although George Mason’s contract with TTPS will expire at the end of next month, Mastrofski fully expects it to be renewed.

Mastrofski is a renowned expert on community policing, police performance measurement, and police management. He has done extensive research and writing on these and other topics and is the recipient of the 2000 O.W. Wilson Award, presented by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences to a criminal justice professional who has made outstanding contributions to police education, research, and practice.

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