The Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, has re-stated that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) will not arrest citizens illegally—a clear breach of their Constitutional rights—and remains committed to upholding the law.
The top cop was responding to comments made by the Prime Minister during a press conference yesterday, Saturday 12 September 2020, in which the PM expressed concern over how the Police Service was enforcing the COVID-19 Regulations.
The Prime Minister was referring to the recent controversy surrounding the TTPS’ handling of an alleged breach of the Regulations at a pool-side party in Bayside Towers.
In an official statement issued this morning, Sunday, Commissioner Griffith says it is up to the Government—not the Police Service—to ensure that the law allows for the enforcement of the COVID-19 Regulations on private property.
He stated: “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.”
The full text of the statement issued by the Police Commissioner, follows…
CoP: “PM alluding for police to breach constitutional rights of persons by arresting them for acts committed when there was no law enacted to do so. I am committed to uphold the law and not break it by arresting persons illegally as proposed.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) notes with some degree of disappointment the comments of the Honorable Prime Minister yesterday where he alluded to and/or insinuated that the TTPS failed to do its job as it related to the matter involving a party held poolside at Bayside Towers in Cocorite. In effect, the TTPS was 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? 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. For instance, if 20 owners of property at BaysideTowers, or any other gated community, were at the common area pool relaxing, is it being suggested we should enter the compound and arrest them all for violating the Covid-19 regulations simply because they number more than five? The TTPS recalls that the number established by the Ordinance at the time of the general election was 10 yet we heard no outrage at that time when ALL political parties were pushing the limits of the law. And in those instances, there was no question of private versus public space. 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. The average citizen can only enter Bayside if invited. Someone invited those people there. Bayside Residential Association has it within their rules to control these issues among themselves. They are the communal owners of that property. In this particular case, it was the very neighbors inside Bayside that called to complain, and TTPS responded. By the time we arrived we saw nothing in terms of numbers or activities consistent with what was shared on social media.
We accept that this pandemic dictates that things cannot proceed as normal as one person’s silly actions can have a damaging effect on the entire population. Having said that, the TTPS must balance the competing interests of the Public Health Ordinance and the constitutional rights of citizens. We try to do so evenly. Since the beginning of the “lockdown’, we have consistently taken the approach to warn and persuade ahead of arrest. 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.
The Prime Minister, as the most experienced politician in the Government, should know that the amendments to the law cannot be done through press conferences. The PM should know that any changes to the constitutional rights of citizens should be done through Parliament. His Attorney General should so advise him of this. If we respond to incidents like the one at Bayside and simply start arresting people there would be hundreds of lawsuits against the State for wrongful arrest since no law would have been amended to reflect this. This approach to law enforcement, reminiscent of the illegal arrests of the 2011 State of Emergency, is obscene and if pursued, will cost the State millions of dollars in damages and legal costs after successful suits.
If the PM was genuine in his claims that no one is above the law and all should be dealt with equally, he would not put the TTPS to be the fall guy by giving us the power to arrest those from humble resources who swim in public spaces, but prevents us from taking action on those who commit similar acts in the haven of luxurious pools in private property which we have been given no power to arrest such fortunate individuals.