Revamped Flying Squad won't soar
By CAROL MATROO Sunday, July 1 2012
“The Flying Squad coming.”
Those were words that had many who were standing at street corners with their spliffs (marijuana joints), or sitting on culverts with their bongs (devices used to smoke cocaine), or the pimps touting their “girls”, ready to sprint to alleys, ravines and even outhouses as they tried to elude the justice of the infamous Randolph Urich Burroughs, former Commissioner of Police (CoP) of Trinidad and Tobago.
Burroughs was head of the Flying Squad, then an elite crime-fighting unit, back in the 1970s and 1980s, which hit hard against crime and the criminals who committed the acts that then created havoc in the lives of citizens.
Even the most hardened criminals feared Burroughs and his unit of men, who, while labelled an effective unit, were also highly criticised for using a controversial approach to crime fighting.
The Flying Squad was formed in 1970 after the formation of the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF), which comprised several young men who set up camp in the Northern Range and threatened to take over the country unlawfully.
The squad was disbanded in 1986 after Burroughs was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
The Scott Drug Report marked Burroughs and his squad’s fall from grace. However, the trial fell apart before Justice Jean Permanand in the Port-of-Spain High Court in 1987 and Burroughs took early retirement. He died on October 9, 1996, a broken man.
Newly-appointed National Security Minister Jack Warner sent citizens back to those days when he hinted that he would like to see a return of the Flying Squad. There have since been varying views to Warner’s proposal.
Former minister, Brig John Sandy, has questioned whether the dynamics of yesteryear would conform to today’s crime wave. TT Police Service Public Information Officer, Sgt Wayne Mystar, meanwhile said the Flying Squad was “just a name,” adding if such a unit were to be re- implemented, police must be provided with the proper tools to deal with “modern society.”
Over the past several years, TT has seen an overwhelming increase in crime–including murders, drug trafficking and the use of high-tech arms and ammunition by criminal gangs on the streets.
A former Flying Squad member and senior police officer, who requested anonymity, told Sunday Newsday when the unit was active, criminals had a certain level of respect for them.
“When people knew that the Flying Squad was coming, they had that certain amount of respect. Today, the criminals no longer respect the law or the police, they don’t even respect themselves ...,” he said.
“The Flying Squad was known for their early morning raids because bandit or no bandit, you have to rest. In those days criminal activities were mainly in the night, so you have to move to suit the times. Now it is night and day, they don’t care. Long time they were hiding to commit their crime in the night, but now it is any time.”
The officer said while police officers today were committed in their fight against crime, there were many different challenges and they just did not have the drive.
“If you want to call it a Flying Squad it would have to be Flying Squad with a difference. Long time when you had to get a gun it was a little old gun. Now when you get a gun it is fully automatic, high powered. People now are totally different to the people at that time. Young criminals now have a mentality that is they either live or die ... that comes from children making children,” he said.
Noting that over the years there have been all manners of squads that had not really made much of a difference, the officer, who is still an active member of the service, said there was still a chance for a such unit to make an impact in today’s crime fighting scenario.
“Once the Flying Squad did something a little out of the way, they want to dismantle it. They could make a try, but you must have select, experienced people. Burroughs was the kind of Police Commissioner who met you on the ground,” the officer said.
“The past police commissioners and even the present CoP, while meeting with subordinate officers socially it is all good, but when working on the field, that relationship of understanding and camaraderie just is not there.”
Asked if Warner would succeed where others had failed to curb crime in TT, the officer said it was an enormous challenge and the country would have to wait and see.
Another officer who was not a member of the Flying Squad but worked closely with the crime- fighting legend, said Burroughs, who was often accused of using unorthodox methods, relied on informants to help him in carrying out his raids.
“That’s how he knew what was going on and going down,” said the retired officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Asked how legitimate these informants were, the officer, who was attached to the Robbery Squad at that time, was quick to point out that a “snitch” could be anyone.
“An informant could be anybody. A criminal could give you good information. If a criminal witnessed something, what is it that would make him unreliable?
“Informants come from all walks of life, it could be anybody. You cannot say that an informant must be a person of good standing in society, the position is that you want to get information.”
The now retired officer described Burroughs as “the most successful police commissioner” since then to the present day.
“He had a lot of tact, he was smart and the people out there trusted him. If something happened, Burroughs was a man who could take up a telephone and tell you about a murder happening in Sangre Grande and you know the information would be on target. He was always there outside with his men. Not one police commissioner, past or present, could walk in his shoes and they can’t take a page out of his book because they don’t have that kind of quality,” he said.
“That is not something that you get overnight. You can’t learn it, you have to be born with that
“You need a man with that kind of talent and skill. Everybody tries to be like Burroughs but Burroughs was in a class by himself and that is the difference.”
The officer admitted that while Burroughs may have had an air of arrogance, he was just human, but when it came to fighting crime, “he was a boss.”
Despite allegations made against Burroughs, which led to his resignation, the officer said he never witnessed any incidences of the then top cop breaking the law.
“I never knew him to be in anything dishonest, I can’t say that. What I could say, he was a man, when he called his exercise at 3.45 am, the office full because everybody coming. He used to give you that kind of zeal to come out and work.
“The other fellas are what you would call a different kettle of fish. There wasn’t an officer who could give you that kind of drive to work. Do you think (CoP Dwayne) Gibbs could do that? An astute leader I would call him (Burroughs).
“You feel to work because he is out there with you and if he is not there, he would call every minute to be up to date on what is happening. You could have walked into Burroughs’ house at anytime. If he is in the bedroom and he and his wife are on the bed, he would say ‘come’.”
He added, “Burroughs was born for police work while there are those who are now trying to learn. All those law enforcement agencies all over the world had great respect for Burroughs. When they tried to bring him down it was their own deceit.
There was a kind of conspiracy among certain senior officers who tried to bring him down to get at him because they were jealous of him. They broke his heart, made him a sad man. He may have lived a little longer, but he died from a broken heart. He was a good man.”
Former Flying Squad member Vincent Anastacio, now a sergeant attached to the Transit Police, also said Burroughs had his own special way with dealing with crime.
“He used unorthodox methods to deal with crime. He fought the criminals, not necessarily fighting crime. In other words, you may have a road block and it may extend for a whole mile. You are fighting crime, but what happens to the criminals who might slip through the cracks?” he said.
Anastacio feels, however, that if Warner adopts the methods of the Flying Squad, it would be a plus for the beleaguered Police Service in TT. He said the members of the Flying Squad made an invaluable contribution to crime fighting with Burroughs’ “special touch.”
“In my mind there was a certain psychological fear for the approach which Mr Burroughs operated. He used to get information from the citizens at a moment’s notice and act immediately. I think that was largely responsible for his success. He was also able to have a back-up plan in case the first plan did not work. He would go after the criminals relentlessly and he’d have a vehement approach at the core of the crime situation,” Anastacio said.
“I find it hard to come to terms with how the criminals view the relevant authorities, because they have no regard for the sanctity of life or our freedom. In the Flying Squad days crime was suppressed in particular areas, but now there are mushrooms of criminals to take the place of others immediately, due to the fact that they feel no serious fear.”
He said he also sees the need to bring back what he described as “psychological fear” on the criminal population. He added that Burroughs was a hands-on CoP who rarely sent his men out on his many early morning raids without venturing out himself.
“He would be sleeping and information would come to him on his pillow. He would call and give his instructions or he would get up and get outside, and get involved. He would have his men on their toes, always alert,” he said.
“Mr Warner could take a page from Burroughs’ book and get dedicated men around him, people who are loyal to the job. He has the potential to turn things around and the time is now. We also need to see a higher police presence, and I don’t mean just officers being present, but being seen as doing their job effectively.”
Another Flying Squad member for 18 of his 31 years as a CID Investigator, Trevor St Louis shared a special relationship with Burroughs.
“I had a very special relationship with Burroughs and I can tell that he was always there, he would lead from the front. His motivation was always strong,” he said.
St Louis, who received the Humming Bird Class 1 Gold Medal for Gallantry in 1976, is now a senior security supervisor with the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). He said the Flying Squad was effective because its members came from various districts around the country
“They would have had knowledge of the criminal activities or they knew the modus operandi of criminals in that district and they often partnered with other police officers in different areas. We were on top of that because the officers from, let’s say Belmont, were regrouped to south and we were able to identify the criminal,” he said.
However, St Louis said because the world was now so high-tech, criminals were very much aware of what was happening today
“A criminal activity is a repeated change in location. A criminal in north Trinidad may not only leave and go to San Juan or St James, but may also go to south Trinidad,” he said.
St Louis said he would not dismiss the eventuality of another Flying Squad, but said it would have to be under different management and leadership.
“The new minister, with the people he has around him now, and if they have the right ideas, I think it is workable. I think if the former members of the Flying Squad were engaged and they are able to motivate younger persons, I think it is possible,” St Louis said.