Police Commissioner Gary Griffith has come to the defence of the Police Service and himself after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley called for the arrests of all who were found to be partying.
He is calling on the Government to amend the current laws as it applies to police responding to events held on private properties.
Dr Rowley stated that the law should be applied across the board during a press conference on Saturday, as he joined the ongoing commentary on the recent Bayside Towers pool party.
Following the Bayside event, several expressed the belief that the police had given preferential treatment to the group by not arresting or fining those involved but rather issuing two warnings.
“We expect that the law will be applied to every person regardless of race, colour, creed, class or social standing,” said Dr Rowley.
Griffith responded to the prime minister via a media release yesterday in which he expressed disappointment that, in his view, the Police Service had been “thrown under the proverbial bus.”
“The TTPS stands ready and committed to enforce ALL laws passed by the Government, however, we must be wary of simply responding to public or political pressure especially as it relates to potentially abusing the rights of individuals and/or acting illegally in a quest to satisfy public or political pressure. The simple question before the TTPS is can we enter private property without a warrant and charge persons for committing violations of the Public Health Ordinance simply because they number more than five?”
Griffith said further, “We have sought and received several legal opinions on this and are indeed comfortable with our current interpretation of the law and therefore our response to the matter at hand. The law as currently constructed does NOT diminish a person’s constitutional rights as a whole and in particular, their rights to enjoy property. This makes for a difficult judgement call on the part of the TTPS.”
Griffith pointed to similar warnings given during the election campaign when political parties constantly had gatherings which then exceeded the limit of 10 per group, saying that except in those cases there was no ambiguity as those events had occurred in public spaces.
“We did then what we did in Bayside; caution persons! Is the issue with this Bayside matter the number of people, or the fact it was a party, or the fact it was on social media, or the fact that they are perceived as rich? As the TTPS, we respond to breaches of the Public Health Ordinance. We don’t respond to perceptions of race, creed, or class.”
He added, “The suggestion that somehow persons at one location have gotten privileges that others haven’t gotten is ridiculous, misinformed, and dangerous, and only inflames an already delicate situation. The solution to this matter lies in the hands of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and not the Police. If the GORTT wishes to have enforcement of the regulations on private property and inside persons homes, they need to amend the legislation or provide new legislation that would allow the police clear and unambiguous authority to do what the Prime Minister has insinuated should be done.”
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial also sided with the Commissioner of Police’s stance that an adjustment to the law would be required for the police to act, and agreed that the TTPS had been thrown under the bus by the Prime Minister.
Lutchmedial said, “The Government demands that the police exercise powers they simply do not have and which they have failed to take the necessary steps to give. It is clear that the Honourable Prime Minister is not being properly advised by his Attorney General regarding what the police can and cannot do under the existing Regulations implemented by his Minister of Health.”
She said the legislation would have to return to the Parliament to flesh out a law to avoid such occurrences.
“You cannot give the TTPS a cork to plug one of several holes and then blame them because the ship is still sinking. Give them the necessary tools to help keep the ship afloat,” she said.
Earlier in the week another UNC MP Dinesh Rambally argued that the Bayside incident was not an instance of preferential treatment, but a case of ambiguity under the Public Health Regulation.
Griffith writes officers
Meanwhile, Guardian Media has received a copy of a private document which Commissioner Griffith sent to all Heads of Divisions telling officers to adhere to their oaths and maintain the law. When contacted, Griffith confirmed the document was sent out to officers. It stated:
“In relation to the PM’s misleading perception and trying to throw the police under the bus due to his failure to draft laws giving police authority to charge persons for breach of Health Regs in private property, please advise all Officers to adhere to their oath and enforce laws. A press conference cannot enact a law. We can take the easy way out and listen to him and start arresting any house with more than 5 visitors. But we are professional. Let us adhere to enforcing the law. All we can do if there is mass assembly in private property is to advise, warn and disperse. We arrest and the State pays for wrongful arrest.”