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(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) Some 500 police officers are under investigation, acting Senior Superintendent Suzette Martin of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Professional Standards Bureau has said.
Giving a breakdown, she said in 2018, there were 82 officers under investigation; in 2019, there were 90 officers; in 2020, 124; and in 2021—133. She said although they are being investigated, it does not automatically mean the officers would be suspended from the TTPS. Martin was giving testimony on Wednesday before the Joint Select Committee on National Security.
With respect to matters which went before the court, Martin said in 2018, 19 officers were charged and placed before the court; in 2019, the figure was 23; in 2020, 16; and in 2021, 18 officers were charged and placed before the court. She said the most common charges were misbehaviour in public office; corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act (bribe taking); and perversion of the course of public justice.
Martin said the sanctioned strength of the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB), which investigates police wrong-doing, was 54; and the actual strength was 34. Asked by JSC member Dr Roodal Moonilal about the Stanley John Report on allegations of corruption in the issuance of firearm users licences (FULs), Martin said the PSB along with other sections of the TTPS have started the FUL enquiry with respect to the audit done by the John Report.
“I would say that within the near future you will get a better response on that investigation,” she said. And Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob told the JSC that white collar criminals and criminal gangs are now working together in Trinidad and Tobago. “There is a gathering of forces in relation to criminal elements within our space, where we are actually seeing a combination of persons who we consider to be the street gangs and conventional criminals linking up with the white collar criminals or criminals from the upper echelons of our society who have available to them a lot of resources. Thus the TTPS needs to adapt quickly and change to deal with what is happening around us.
“We also have an international incursion of particular activities with Trinidad and Tobago and that (international element) would join up with the criminals in Trinidad and Tobago. So what we are handling (with crime) is from the area of human trafficking to gang activities to the basic street robberies and other issues. We also have a high incidence of white collar crime which is also influencing what is playing out on the streets,” Jacob said.
Jacob said the Covid-19 pandemic gave an opportunity for people involved in criminal activity to “sit, plan, organise and link”. He said as crimes of opportunity reduced in the pandemic, organised crime took a stronger footing. “When I talk about ‘hits’, I am talking about persons in the higher echelons of the society who hire persons on the streets to do work on their behalf,” he said.
He said the anti-gang legislation was perceived as targeting the street gangs, but it related to anyone at any level of the society who comes together with others to engage in criminal activity. “That is what we are pushing our anti-gang procedure, and the unit which deals with it, to look at persons in white collar crimes,” he said. Asked by JSC member Paul Richards whether he believed the legislation was not effective enough, Jacob admitted the TTPS had not been able to “execute effectively” in relation to the anti-gang legislation. “We have linked with our international partners to assist us in this regard,” he said. Jacob said the Financial Investigation Unit was now linking with the Anti-Gang Unit because in looking at investigations, the TTPS had to examine the street gangs and their white collar accomplices.
More camaraderie with transition from Griffith to himself
Asked whether the transition from the last commissioner to himself had undermined or augmented confidence in the TTPS, Jacob said that was a difficult question to answer. He said while it had an effect, there was some positivity. He said the support he was getting from the lower levels and the middle managers was amazing. He said the camaraderie among the executive members and the senior officers who have come together as a team to deal with the TTPS was strong. Asked by Moonilal for the status of the report by former commissioner Gary Griffith on former chairman of the Police Service Commission Bliss Seepersad, Jacob said: “We received some correspondence from the former commissioner and it was sent to the Special Branch to analyse to see whether there is any need for the other investigative units to be involved, and the Special Branch is engaged with that at the moment.”
1,200 body cameras coming
Responding to questions from Moonilal and Richards, Jacobs said he was addressing the issue of body cameras and CCTV. He said the TTPS currently had 160 body cameras, which was “a drop in the ocean”.
He said it recently acquired 750 additional body cameras, which it was currently distributing. “There is the intention to acquire another 1,200 body cameras in the next two months,” Jacob stated. He said what assists the TTPS tremendously is the fact that a lot of its vehicles are outfitted with cameras. He was responding to statements by Moonilal, who had raised the fact that members of the PSB stated that one of the challenges they faced with the use of CCTV was that the quality of the video footage was sometimes too poor to assist being used as evidence.
Asked whether the TTPS had communicated with the providers of CCTV cameras about the quality of the footage, the hardware and the software, Jacob said the TTPS made submissions to the ministry, which is responsible for dealing with the providers. He said in the recent past some work was done and an agreement was signed to increase the number of cameras throughout T&T. He said some of the footage had improved. He said the TTPS was also liaising with the business community. In response to a question from Richards on the issue of cameras, Jacob said cameras were crucial in solving crime.
Covid a challenge
Referring to the incident in San Fernando last Saturday in which a security guard was killed during a robbery, Moonilal said it had come to his attention that several businessmen in the San Fernando area were migrating as a result of the issues of security and policing. Jacob said he was on the scene on Saturday and interacted with members of the business community. “I did not get the indication that persons were leaving, and just yesterday I was in San Fernando with the mayor and the head of the business community,” he said.
Jacob said he explained why there was a “gap” in the usual number of patrols on Saturday. He noted that three of the people suspected of being involved in that crime were arrested as a result of the quick action of the police. “And that will build confidence and trust. We are challenged like every other institution in Trinidad and Tobago as a result of the pandemic. We are constantly having officers contracting Covid-19 and who have to quarantine,” he said. Jacob said the TTPS had introduced a new patrol deployment policy and vehicle maintenance policy. He said when he went to San Fernando, he explained how it would be done.
He said it would influence all police divisions.
“We will have the official launch of it but I am indicating that since around Christmas I have been talking about it,” Jacob said.