Commissioner of Police-designate Erla Harewood-Christopher dodged the firing line yesterday, after she failed to appear before what would have been her first Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting since being selected for the position by Members of Parliament last Friday.
However, while Harewood-Christopher gave what appeared a valid reason for her absence, JSC members on both sides expressed their disappointment in her absence, with answers being sought from those who filled in for her during the inquiry into the anti-crime strategies implemented by the TTPS to address criminal activity in Trinidad and Tobago.
Among those to reprimand Harewood-Christopher was JSC chairman Keith Scotland, who said her absence impacted the course of yesterday’s inquiry.
“The committee wanted to hear from the Commissioner-designate, the committee had set its work set out on that pathway, having sent out the invitation and the committee wants to convey the critical significance of the Commissioner of Police-designate attending before us on the next occasion. We cannot underestimate or understate the crucial attendance of that personal attendance, not just for the committee but the country at large.”
Despite his apparent reprimand, Scotland told members that he did receive a correspondence from Harewood-Christopher explaining her absence.
“We received a correspondence yesterday afternoon, after receiving an initial confirmation that issues that are urgent and critical to national security required the Commissioner-designate’s urgent attention and she was unable to attend this afternoon,” he said.
However, committee member Jayanti Lutchmedial said with the public pleading for an answer to the spate of violent crimes and murders, members were prepared to put pointed questions to Harewood-Christopher and her absence was disappointing.
“The Commissioner-designate has been acting as the Commissioner for some time, has been a member of the TTPS executive for some time and therefore must be aware of the importance of these committee meetings and these committees. It is the mechanism through which the people’s representatives in the Parliament really get an opportunity to interrogate state functionaries and at a time when we have record-breaking murder rate last year, we have a record-breaking murder rate in January and what prompted our request for a meeting today is a series of reports of TTPS paraphernalia or imitation paraphernalia, as well as other arms of law enforcement-marked ammunition, being found on crime scenes.”
Member Randall Mitchell, in what seemed to be a defence of Harewood-Christopher’s absence, speculated that the greatest show on earth may have led to her no- show.
“I too struggled to come here today and I’d imagine that while we are experiencing some difficulty, we are also in a period where a lot of strategic planning must be done by the police because we expect a lot of visitors and activities over the Carnival period and I think while the officers before this committee can help, I think it is reasonable that the head of an organisation, understanding the buck stops with that head, would be engaged in the pressing matter of planning for the execution of Carnival 2023.”
Acting DCP (Investigations and Intelligence) Curt Simmons led the TTPS’ executive during the session and responded to concerns raised by members Lutchmedial and Dr Roodal Moonilal of TTPS paraphernalia being found at crime scenes.
He stated that steps, including possible legislative changes, were being taken to address the matter.
“Internally, we have instructed that only our Task Forces throughout the nation are allowed to use certain types of kit and that is the blue one. The charge room personnel will revert to the blue and grey as we know it. The balaclava, that mask which came out during the COVID-19, a number of officers were holding on to it. We have instructed that that be removed when persons are dealing directly with the public, Simmons told the JSC.
“We have looked at our legislation, which actually speaks against it, and I think other agencies, mostly security companies, would have been allowed to use items that resemble police kits and we are planning a meeting to address that issue.”
The acting DCP also gave an assurance that Carnival 2023 will be one of the safest. He said a targeted approach will be taken when it comes to beefing up security.
Apart from the call out of all officers on leave to strengthen squads, Simmons pledged that response times will be faster than before.
“We are trying to gauge and measure the response that we’re having so that we can react to our situations that we anticipate, and we are anticipating things, not that we are hoping for things, but we are anticipating things. So, we are putting things in place to deal with the things we anticipate, there are certain places that tend to be troubled at different times of the Carnival.”