Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith yesterday listed collapsed anti-crime legislation, rogue police officers and lack of continuous polygraph testing as the main policing hurdles to tackle crime.
The Commissioner and his team were before the Joint Select Committee (JSC) yesterday scrutinized on the police ability to strategically deal with organized crime and gang activities.
According to the Commissioner because of a lack of legislation gang activity now appears to be legal in this country.
The Commissioner also announced that officers will soon be in new uniforms with special clips for body cameras and radios and a belt with pepper spray and tasers.
“The uniform itself, we got the approval from Cabinet a week ago,” Griffith said.
Chairman of the JSC, Fitzgerald Hinds asked about police officers not showing up for court matters, which usually lead to these matters being thrown out of the court.
Recently, in the kidnapping and murder of Andrea Bharrat, it was revealed that one of the accused, Joel Balcon had some 70 cases and the majority was thrown out because of a no-show by the charging officer.
“In what ways does laziness, sloppiness, unproductivity affect the effectiveness of the police service and what could be done to resolve it?” Hinds asked.
Griffith said that case management was key.
“That is why we would have seen in the last two years a 93 per cent reduction in police officers non-appearance. There were no consequences, no follow-up so police officers on many occasions would not attend court. That is no longer the case,” Griffith said.
“I have a report of an attorney who boasted that he paid a police officer not to attend court and that is how serious this gets,” he said.
Griffith also said the lack of anti-crime legislation makes it difficult for the police to control the uptick in gang numbers.
“It makes it virtually impossible for us to do anything now because it is legal to be a gang member. It is legal for any gang leader to contact a young person and ask them to join a gang,” Griffith said.
“We are one of the countries where it is now legitimate to be a gang member,” he said.
Griffith detailed the number of gangs in the country and lamented that the gangs are recruiting young boys between the ages 14 to 16 to act as armed lookouts.
“The total members within the gangs within T&T, we have it as 1,056. We also have the breakdown of gang members from some of the major gangs the Rasta City and Muslim Gangs, the Sixx and then we have number of other smaller gangs, the ABJ, the Maloney gangs,” he said.
“Young boys, especially young boys they become vulnerable, easily accessible to these gang members and these gang leaders pull them in they put them sometimes as a sentry and they give them a firearm,” he said.
Griffith said that because of the collapsed legislation in Parliament, it is easier now for gang leaders to operate.
“It is now legal to be a gang leader,” he said
“Because of the legislation collapsing, they now advertise and have jerseys to say they’re a gang member. There is no law against it,” he said.
Griffith also said that there is no evidence to link any of the gangs to a single bigger player and the gangs operate independently.
The Commissioner also confirmed that rogue elements in the police service also add to the difficulties.
“Yes, it is very difficult. Where we would have proper intelligence coming to us from the National Operation Fusion Centre and more so the FIU and when we’re about to launch an operation to go after individuals, you would have police officers who would be covering for drug blocks, human trafficking, illegal entry of weapons, drugs into the country. And they will tip off some of these operations we about to conduct,” he said.
Vice-chairman of the JSC, Senator Paul Richards also asked about international gang element in the country. Griffith said that while there were no international gangs set up in T&T, some gang members from South America added their own variety of crime to the local gangs.
Griffith also said that the only officers polygraphed on a regular basis were the members of SORT. All other officers are polygraphed only upon entering the police service.
He is asking for legislation that gives him the authority to polygraph officers two years into the service.