Two incidents which have occurred in the past 48 hours have again brought the conduct of members of the T&T Police Service into sharp focus.
In the first one, Special Operations Response Team (SORT) officers raided seven mansions in Gulf View, La Romaine, early Friday, apparently without proper search warrants for all the properties. They eventually found nothing, suggesting their intelligence, which we hope they had, was flawed. There has as yet been no explanation for the searches or apologies to the families involved.
In the second one, later Friday, three people were killed and three others hurt, including a police officer, after police were involved in an alleged gun battle with the residents at Big Yard, Carenage. The three casualties included a teenage Mucurapo Secondary student hit by a stray bullet while on her way to a nearby parlour. Angry residents subsequently confronted the police, forcing them to call for backup from not only colleagues but the Defence Force.
As is the norm, we have two accounts of what transpired. The officers’ account claims they attempted to arrest a man who was liming when they were shot at by another man in the group, forcing them to defend themselves. The residents, however, have counter-argued that only the police were shooting and that the officers involved may allegedly be operatives for a rival gang in the community. They want Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith to investigate.
So now, John Public must await a TTPS investigation into the matter. But John Public also doesn’t trust this process, because countless investigations into similar incidents, even when it appears officers did wrong, have come to naught, leaving the families of those affected with no justice.
This is where the Police Complaints Authority comes in. This independent body will soon ask witnesses to come forward so it can piece together what went on to determine whether officers were negligent. But how many, from a community unfortunately notorious for gang activity, will do so at the expense of putting their own lives at risk? Truth be told, we may never know because of this.
So herein lies the problem. If the police account is true, a gangster felt emboldened enough to shoot a policeman trying to make an arrest, for which the perpetrator must pay the price. If the residents’ complaint is true, there are rogue officers facilitating gang activity in the community.
Either way, it is part of the growing crime cancer which must be rooted out before it overruns the country. The only way for this to occur is for the same John Public to expose criminals in their communities. But in order to facilitate this, CoP Griffith must hold officers accountable for negligence, wrongdoing, root out the rogue elements and admit to John Public when the TTPS has erred too.