The Saturday night crowd at MovieTowne in Port-of-Spain was not the only worrisome gathering over the weekend, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said yesterday.
Police officers had to be called to the popular venue on Saturday after photos surfaced on social media of scores of people liming outside the cineplex.
In a phone interview with Guardian Media, however, Griffith confirmed that MovieTowne’s crowd was one of three mass gatherings his officers had to disperse on Saturday evening.
“MovieTowne was not the only area, we had similar situations at Heartland Plaza, at Grand Bazaar, where it would have situations where there were mass gatherings of persons at one specific place,” Griffith said.
“We anticipate similar situations during the Easter weekend with people trying to congregate in specific areas and again, it makes it very difficult for the police to try to maintain and to ensure that persons adhere to the regulations when you have that amount of persons in one specific place.”
Griffith explained that the MovieTowne situation was complicated by the fact that the vast majority of people gathered outside the cineplex and shopping mall. He dispelled claims, however, that the crowd may have been linked to the opening of one blockbuster movie.
“I think the bigger problem existed with the vast number of persons who were not going in to watch a movie that afternoon. We got numerous reports of minors who were actually dropped off by their parents,” he said.
“When the police were trying to disperse the crowd, the vast majority were minors who said they had nowhere to go because their parents dropped them off.”
The other gatherings, Griffith confirmed, were adults converging at the shopping malls or near to them.
“We had reports of planned car shows and things that cause adults to converge. Well obviously there would have been some minors as well but therein lies the problem,” said Griffith, who noted the gatherings at these locations flew in the face of the warning issued by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley mere hours earlier.
“It obviously took a lot of strain on the police service that evening. We had five emergency response patrol vehicles going there on a continuous basis trying to disperse the crowd. This was in total contrast to the recommendation and request made by the chair of the National Security Council, the Prime Minister, when he asked persons to try to be responsible.”
He was referring to Prime Minister Rowley’s call to the public to exercise greater discipline in following the COVID-19 protocols in the wake of a recent resurgence in cases. Rowley made the appeal during the COVID-19 media briefing on Saturday, where Ministry of health officials revealed that the county of Victoria had been the latest area identified as a hotspot, with activity in Penal, in particular, causing concern. County Caroni had also previously been highlighted as a new trouble spot for a spike in cases.
Yesterday, Griffith said while the TTPS was aware that many people were frustrated and looking for some kind of outlet after a year of COVID-19-related restrictions, there was still a need for personal responsibility. He also made a call for the public to recognise that their actions might contribute to a large gathering in a public space.
“I said it is not specific because of people going to the movies but children just wanting to socialise, people being frustrated, but everyone cannot decide to socialise and be frustrated at the same time and the same place. So it is hoped that after the situation in MovieTowne, especially parents, they need to understand I may be dropping my child but he or she may contribute to a situation that is very difficult for the police to control,” he said.
He said it was this type of activity that prompted his decision to stop granting permission for vigils and protests, as he explained that these events promoted large gatherings which ultimately are contrary to Public Health Regulations currently being enforced.
“It seems to be a template of a road march line—we intend to adhere to all the COVID protocols. But you say that yet you expect and anticipate hundreds to attend, so you cannot be adhering to all the COVID protocols if you are fully aware that there will be more than ten persons that will be assembled. That is why I had to put an end to it because it was getting totally out of hand,” Griffith said.
“We reach a situation where persons need to understand that persons converging en masse is what may very well be causing the numbers to escalate.”