A sharp rise in police-related shootings last year has been recorded by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
However, while PCA director David West says it is yet to analyse how many of these shootings occurred because police officers were targets, it is certainly time to look again at the policy of officers being allowed to take home firearms.
His comments follow a shooting at Lady Chancellor Hill on Wednesday night in which an off-duty police officer shot and killed two men and injured another in what was believed to have been an attempted robbery.
Speaking exclusively to Guardian Media, West said there were 83 police-involved shootings, both fatal and non-fatal, for 2020 which involved 109 victims. Out of these 83 shootings, 55 people were killed by the police.
This represents a significant increase when compared to the fatal and non-fatal police-involved shootings for 2015, in which only 12 people died out of 29 incidents.
West said several factors could be responsible for the increase.
“The PCA has no specific statistics regarding criminal elements targeting police officers, we have not looked at that or analysed that as yet,” he said.
However, he noted that the PCA should play a greater role in any decision to send police officers home with personal firearms.
“As part of the functions under the act, we would welcome being involved in the drafting of a policy regarding when officers should be allowed to have a personal firearm,” West said.
He noted that some police officers have abused the privilege of carrying personal firearms.
“The issue on whether a police officer attached to a task force or special unit should be given a personal firearm to protect themselves is really for the TTPS or the Commissioner of Police to make that decision. There have been circumstances where officers who have been given a firearm abused that privilege,” West said.
He added, “For example, we have had incidents of officers losing the firearm or threatening spouses or partners in domestic violence matters or discharging firearms in night clubs.”
Contacted for comment, T&T Police Service Social and Welfare Association president, Insp Gideon Dickson, said he did not have the statistics provided by the PCA. He deferred comment until proper analysis of the statistics could be done.
Contacted for comment on the issue, Commissioner Griffith said because of the work that some officers do and the specialised units they work in, their lives are always at risk.
“They often become targets of the criminal elements. In some cases, we have had to move police officers out of the environment in which they lived because of the gang culture and place them in a more secure place. Being a police officer is a dangerous job and criminals will also target them because of the successes they have achieved,” Griffith said.
He noted that police officers are highly trained and they are likely to hit their targets.
“Look at what happened at Lady Chancellor on Wednesday night. An attempt was made to rob a police officer who was jogging. Luckily for the police officer, the gunman who fired at him missed the mark. Unfortunately for the gunman and his accomplices, the policeman, being trained, was able to hit his target.”
He said while 55 persons were killed by the police last year, there were 130 instances of police officers being shot at.
“That was 35 more than in 2019. That amounts to an average of a police officer being shot at every three days last year,” he said.
On Wednesday, a police officer opened fire on a group of men, after one of them came out a car, approached and shot at the officer as he was walking along the Lady Chancellor Hill with his girlfriend.
The two slain suspects were identified as Franklin De Freitas, 35 and Jahmeal Phillip 22. A 26-year-old man who sought medical aid at hospital for gunshot wounds following the incident remains under police guard.