3017534

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith is right. It defeats the whole purpose of a state of emergency and curfew if more than one-third of the country’s adult population is granted authorisation to move about freely in and out of the curfew hours.

Swamped with 6,800 letters for what would have amounted to an astonishing 350,000 curfew passes, Commissioner Griffith turned down most of the requests and granted just 8,000.

Since all but essential businesses are barred from operating under the public health regulations, it is hard to fathom how people like roti shop owners, chartered accountants and even PH drivers could justify having to be out in public after the stipulated hours.

This is the very mindset that has made reducing the high rate of COVID-19 infections across the country so difficult.

That overwhelming urge by so many to commingle, even when faced with a life-threatening illness that finds fertile breeding grounds in crowds, has resulted in the forced implementation of increasingly tougher measures to fight the pandemic.

Port-of-Spain City Corporation officials had to take the extreme step of cordoning off the Brian Lara Promenade to discourage large gatherings there but even that was not sufficient.

So it was that yesterday, the usually tough-talking Commissioner Griffith called a T&T Police Service (TTPS) media conference to announce strict enforcement of the SoE and curfew regulations.

There will be no curfew passes for those company executives whom he claimed just wanted to have it as a “status symbol” and the MTS company’s request for 4,037 passes is “not going to happen.”

According to the Commissioner, this SoE is going to be different from past ones. Since he had a frontline experience of the 2011 edition, he is fully aware of the mistakes that need to be avoided, such as authorising too many curfew passes.

He was National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar when, in response to a wave of violent crimes linked to drug trafficking, a limited state of emergency was enforced in six areas in Trinidad.

It was triggered after 11 people were killed over a weekend. The Persad-Bissessar administration tried to go after suspected gang members who were believed to be behind the crime wave. However, although there were more than 100 arrests, most suspects ended up being released and there was a great cost to the state, which ended up paying out large sums for wrongful detentions.

The parameters of the current SoE are quite different, since the focus is on public health rather than national security, but Commissioner Griffith must avoid repeating past SoE mistakes.

He can do that by ensuring that his tough talk translates into tough action from the men and women under his command.

Before the SoE, there had been complaints about police officers ignoring very blatant breaches of the mask mandate and social distancing rules.

The apparent soft approach by police officers when members of a church very publicly contravened public health protocols about large gatherings at Harris Promenade, San Fernando, last Sunday, has drawn a lot of criticism.

The Commissioner should thus ensure rank and file police officers now follow his lead.