After witnessing the grief of those saying farewell to murdered prison officers Trevor Serrette and Nigel Jones, Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob announced a $.5 million reward for anyone who helps to bring their killers to justice.
Jacob announced the rewards after he, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds and Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan, attended Jones’ funeral in Siparia on Tuesday..
During a media conference at the Police Administration Building in San Fernando, Jacob said the T&T Police Service condemns the acts of violence against officers of the State.
He said the TTPS had observed attacks on members of the Prison Service for some time, with Serrette and Jones being among the latest.
As such, the Police Service has collaborated with the Ministry of National Security to offer a $500,000 reward to anyone who can provide information that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of the suspects involved in the crimes.
As he appealed to citizens to come forward, he assured that the TTPS would handle the information with the highest level of confidentiality.
The TTPS will issue a media release to inform people how to share their reports soon, he said.
Jacob said the TTPS had put together a team comprising the Homicide Bureau of Investigations and other units, aided by the Prison Service. He said the forensic team is also playing a significant role in the investigation.
The team detained nine people and gathered certain information after questioning. However, Jacob said investigators had released eight while one remained in custody. He said the TTPS would leave no stone unturned to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Hinds said the ministry had previously pledged its full support for the Prison Service to deal with criminality in and out of prisons. He said this was because the National Security Council and Government understood these attacks were not simply against the Prison Service but on the State.
“They are intended to disrupt the operations of the prisons and the State and to break down the effectiveness of law enforcement to do its work. It is a very serious business. In fact, in some places and even here, some people consider that this is quintessential terrorist activity. Terrorists do what they do, sometimes for political and other reasons, to disrupt the smooth operation of the State and to interfere with your peace, your safety and security,” Hinds said.
He said Government had decided to apply all resources to national security bodies. He said he provides policies and resources as the minister.
However, Hinds said prison officers must bear all their training and be alert all the time.
“This is no time to be hanging about the place.”
With many hits orchestrated from behind prison walls, Pulchan was asked how prisoners get mobile phones and information to their accomplices.
Pulchan said the Prison Service lost 28 officers in the last 20 years. Since taking up the leadership role in January, he said the Prison Service searches all members and visitors who enter its facilities. So far, the searches had yielded 18 officers found with contraband.
He said between 2019 to 2021, many officers were suspended for trafficking and other illegal activities while investigations took place.
However, the Prison Service is now grappling with criminals’ use of newer technology.
“We do have a problem that seems to be bringing up closer and closer to our door, one of technology, where drones seem to be dropping packages within our prison, and that is one of our problems we are grappling with,” Pulchan said.
These drones, he said, were flying to windows in the prisons, bringing cellphones to prisoners. While the Prison Service works with other agencies to prevent this, Pulchan said they had caught a few drones and secured evidence that can lead to arrests.
However, he said they cannot detect all drones flying into the facilities. He said the Prison Service was now trying to negotiate for geofencing, which alerts a prison or monitoring agency when a device enters a set location.
Acknowledging that prisoners make phone calls via mobile phones, Hinds reminded the public that it is illegal to engage in unlawful communication with a prisoner.
In 2013, Government installed grabbers and jammers in the prisons to block the frequency of phone calls to and from the prison. Pulchan did not comment on the usefulness of these devices, however, saying that another agency operates them.
While the Prison Officers’ Association advocates for personal firearms for all prison officers, Jacob said officers were applying and receiving their Firearm User License following the process. He said Pulchan also has the power to assist officers with getting firearms.