Justice and Penal Issues · Local Issues

Getting Your Hands Dirty

Last week, I had to get myself a Certificate of Good Character. In Trinidad, it’s one of those business formalities some employers use instead of a decent background check. You go in a police station, pay $50 and have them run a check on your fingerprints. Imagine my surprise when I discover how police stations in Trinidad take fingerprints…

On a broken sheet of glass with ink spread on it. Yep, I know. No class.
(Photo courtesy Brendon J. O’Brien)

For more than one reason, this had me thinking. We have hundreds, maybe thousands of requests for Certificates of Good Character, some coming from the same person multiple times for a host of different reasons, the most common being as an occupational requirement. These records are still kept in old hardcover notebooks for people to flip through and find a name and receipt. I can only imagine how criminal records, including their own fingerprints, are kept. No wonder it takes about two weeks to get your Certificate after applying for one…

It’s not unusual for so many systems in Trinidad & Tobago. Since introducing online appointments for passports, the average person would get an appointment a year after going online. We still do our identification card work by paper. Our CXC certificates are held in another Caribbean country that we would need to mail to request them, dammit! I can’t help but think that there’s a better way to do almost everything that we do in this country.

This is not to say that we’re utterly hopeless. We’ve made some strong decisions in recording and accessing the information and tools that citizens need, much like the online passport appointment scheme and the introduction of digital birth certificates. But we still have a lot further to go. And because of this nation’s trademark complacency and laziness, we haven’t lifted a finger in that direction.

Speaking of fingers, the particular experience I had that brought me to this point simply wasn’t a good look. The idea that police stations don’t even have the simple tools to make a fingerprint session look good does not renew my trust in our police system, or the systems that empower and invest in them to do their jobs. I’m sure a lil ink pad per police station is a much smaller invoice than, say, new Coast Guard boats and helicopters. Someone needs to convince me that there isn’t more missing here.

I can be just overreacting. This can just be one of those hilarious instances in the comedy of Trinbagonian errors. But it can also be one of the very subtle signs that there are a lot of tears in the fabric that attempts to hold this society together. And if we’re not looking at it, we won’t notice when it gets much worse…

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