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By Newsday Reporters Tuesday, June 22 2010

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Days before the House of Representatives debates the appointment of a new Commissioner of Police (CoP), as the first item on the new People’s Partnership’s legislative agenda, on Friday, the Police Service Commission (PSC) yesterday gave Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert his fourth extension, this time for a period of three months.

Philbert’s term as Acting Police Commissioner was supposed to end next Wednesday, June 30, but the PSC has said Philbert will remain in the post until September 30. The PSC gave no reason for its decision in a brief two-paragraph statement yesterday.

“The Police Service Commission wishes to inform the public that the tenure of Acting Commissioner of Police Mr James Philbert has been extended to September 30, 2010,” it stated.

However, sources said Philbert is expected to step down before September once a new CoP is chosen. They said Philbert’s extension is meant to give the Government time to conduct the debate on the PSC’s preferred choice for CoP, Canadian Neal Parker, who they plan to reject, along with four other foreigners who the PSC nominated on a merit list for the position.

When the Government turns down Parker and the slate of foreigners it would propose that Assistant Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams be appointed Police Commissioner.

The PSC did not shortlist Williams to be CoP, but has nominated him to be one of three Deputy Police Commissioners. Coincidentally, the PSC also announced yesterday that Williams has been elevated to the rank of Acting Deputy Commissioner, effective today. Williams is to replace outgoing Acting Deputy Commissioner Gilbert Reyes, the PSC announced.

“The Commission also informs that the tenure of Acting Deputy Commissioner Mr Gilbert Reyes ended on June 21, 2010 and that Stephen Williams, Assistant Commissioner of Police has been appointed as Acting Deputy Commissioner with effect from June 22, 2010,” the PSC said in the statement.

Reyes, who had also been granted three extensions, officially retired from the Police Service. Philbert’s extension and the acting appointment of Williams surprised members of the service, and one police source said no announcement of the PSC’s decision was made yesterday during a farewell function for Reyes at the Officers Mess at Police Headquarters in Port-of-Spain. Philbert, the officer said, also did not attend the function.

Press Secretary Garvin Nicholas yesterday said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar felt the PSC’s extension of the tenure of Philbert facilities a “transition” until the new CoP is appointed.

Reading a statement to media at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, Nicholas said, “Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar this afternoon (yesterday) indicated that she is aware of the decision by the PSC to extend the tenure of the current Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert and to replace Deputy Commissioner Reyes with Mr Stephen Williams as Acting Deputy Commissioner. Mr Philbert’s tenure has been extended for three months until the end of September.”

Nicholas said Persad-Bissessar wished to let the public know the Government was actively engaged in the very important process of appointing a CoP and will be engaged in extensive consultations with several interest groups from today before going to the Parliament on Friday.

“In any event the Prime Minister notes that there would be need for a period of transition and as such takes no issue with the initiative shown by the Police Service Commission in granting the three-month extension.”

Asked what the extension meant for Parker, the PSC’s nominee, Nicholas said, “If he is appointed he will be appointed at the start of October.”

Sources said Persad-Bissessar is expected to meet today with three first division officers ACP Mervyn Richardson, deputy director of the Special Anti-Crime Unit, ASP Joel Nedd and Senior Superintendent Margaret Sampson-Browne, of the Court and Process Branch.

Persad-Bissessar will also meet with officials of the Police Social and Welfare Association, which represents second division officers, as well as NGO Arrive Alive, which promotes road safety.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley last evening said he was not surprised by Philbert’s extension and disclosed PNM parliamentarians want him to meet with the Prime Minister.

“In my capacity as Opposition Leader, the caucus has authorised me to, at some time later on, talk with the Prime Minister and seek out what their thoughts are. I am interested to hear what Government has to say on this matter,” Rowley told reporters after the PNM’s parliamentary caucus at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain.

He said the selection process for a CoP must also be reviewed: “If we don’t fix it, it is going to happen, again and again and again.”

Rowley said he wait until debate on the motion to appoint a new CoP and three deputy police commissioners begins on Friday, before seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister. “I am keen to hear what they have to say and to see what they are going to do.

Our position is not one of convenience but determining what is the best system and whether the objectives are being attained,” he said.

Although the current system was meant to keep governments out of the selection of a CoP to eliminate the perception of political control, Rowley said the process has now resulted in “commissioners of police doing ten days.”

He stressed the selection process must be designed “to turn up a Commissioner of Police who can marshal the forces of the Police Service to deal with the mandate of protect of serve.” Rowley said he was uncertain whether the selection of foreign nationals as CoP or Deputy Police Commissioners would achieve that objective.

He said he was not in Parliament when the then PNM government, in 2008, rejected Williams, who at that time was a senior superintendent and the PSC’s nominee for CoP.

The former government complained the selection process was flawed and the PSC began the recruitment exercise all over again.

Once again, serious concerns are being raised about the manner in which the recruitment exercise for the post of CoP was conducted in light of the fact that Parker, current deputy commissioner of the Antigua Police Force, had been the PSC’s choice.

Parker, a retired member of the Canadian Mounted Police, was selected after an assessment conducted by the Justice and Safety Institute of Penn State University at Hilton Trinidad earlier this year.

Only one local, Assistant Police Commissioner, Maurice Piggott, was among the final ten candidates for the top cop position but he was not among the five who had been shortlisted.

Apart from Parker, the other four selected are fellow Canadians Wayne Gibbs and Allan Chertok, and Americans Glen Wall and Michael Soderberg.

“This could only mean that the assessment has to be done over to include more local people,” one senior police officer said yesterday. Philbert, 61, was appointed Police Commissioner on June 27, 2008, following the retirement of his predecessor Trevor Paul.

Philbert had acted for six-months in the post, but was granted his first extension by the PSC on December 3, 2008.

At that time, the PSC had said that once amendments were made to the Police Act, a new Commissioner could have been appointed.

Six months later, on May 22, 2009, Philbert was granted another six month extension after PSC members voiced disappointment over the length of time it was taking for passage of Legal Orders related to qualification criteria and selection processes for the posts of Commissioner and deputy Commissioner of police.

“We have been doing a lot of pressing and we are disappointed it has taken this long. But it has not been for the want of pressing,” Thomas had told reporters.

And on December 2, 2009, Philbert was granted a third six-month extension because of legislative wrangling and a delay in the selection process.

But the process of selecting a new commissioner was also stymied when the PNM Cabinet held back on giving a decision on its recommendation to reappoint Penn State Justice and Safety Institute to conduct the recruitment exercise.

Commenting on the latest developments, criminologist Prof Ramesh Deosaran yesterday said the process was clearly flawed.

“This confirms my view that the Police Service Commission is flawed and complicated,” he said.

“The worst case scenario is the diminishing lack of confidence in such institutions, particularly on such an issue as public safety.

“Without casting blame, it seems like the current structure and process of appointing a police commissioner has very serious defects and is causing serious embarrassment to the political directorate.”

Deosaran said the new Government must quickly conceptualise a new model for the appointment. “But the existing situation just adds to the confusion and puts Philbert in a very awkward situation,” he added.

PSC chairman Christopher Thomas could not be reached for comment.

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