ON THE ATTACK
By ALEXANDER BRUZUAL Thursday, August 22 2013
As the police intensified the attack on crime in Port-of-Spain yesterday with an early morning exercise which saw the community of Phase Four, Beetham Gardens, placed under a five-hour “lockeddown”, an illegal march by masked men in black outside the Hall of Justice put senior officers, attending a meeting at the National Security Ministry, on heightened alert.
The police at first thought the unidentified men were about to attempt a coup, but they soon learned the group were members of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), staging a protest against the 2011 State of Emergency (SoE) on its second anniversary.
The march, which police officials later declared was illegal as no permission was sought by the trade union, began at about 10 am just as the police exercise in the Beetham concluded, and as the officers were finalising plans for the arrival of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the capital for a meeting with residents of crime plagued East Port-of-Spain.
Following the intervention of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Mervyn Richardson, who led away OWTU leader Ancel Roget to the Police Headquarters, the march was quickly brought to an end. Roget was warned but not charged. (See page 4)
Richardson’s actions were supported by Acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) Stephen Williams and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Glenn Hackett, yesterday at the weekly press briefing at the Police Administration Building on Edward Street.
The top police brass declared lawlessness will not be tolerated, even by their own officers who may be working with gangsters, as they disclosed the Beetham raid led to the arrest of 17 persons, one of them a gang leader.
They also defended last Sunday’s exercise between Duncan and Nelson Streets where teenage cousins Naim Antoine and Kadeesha Gomez were gunned down, a week ago. They were among six people killed last Wednesday in East Port-of-Spain. Although most of the 90 persons detained have been freed, the senior officers disclosed the crackdown following the killings had saved the lives of 40 people who are now in safe houses.
“The Police Service would not sit idly by and allow law-abiding citizens to be relentlessly assaulted by persons who are so minded to engage in gang-related activities and the commission of serious offences,” declared a tough-talking Hackett.
He disclosed search warrants were executed at Phase Four, Beetham Gardens, and of the 17 persons arrested, 12 were held in connection with murders, shootings, woundings and robberies.
Three were held for the possession of narcotics (marijuana) and two were charged for selling liquor without a licence. A gang leader was among those detained.
The exercise began at about 5 am and included assistance from ACP Hackett, Snr Supt Wayne Boyd, Ag Supt Allan Crooks, Ag Supt Charles, Inspector Sahadeo Singh, Inspector Harvey Jawahir, Inspector Noel, Ag Sgt Hinkson, and Cpl Sirjew, as well as officers from the Inter Agency Task Force, the Port-of-Spain Division, the Besson Street Police Station, the Guard and Emergency Branch, the K9 Unit, the Anti Kidnapping Unit, the Court and Process Branch and soldiers from the Defence Force.
Crackdown on crooked cops
Hackett again assured the service would look into its own officers who associate with gang leaders and may be leaking sensitive information to them.
“I have tasked the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit (CGIU) with the intelligence-gathering aspect of determining whether this is indeed true,” Hackett said. He said the interaction between police officers and suspected gang leaders may not be a cause for alarm at first since, in the course of their duties in high-crime areas such as East Port-of-Spain, officers will meet with members of the community to gather information, and some of them may be criminals.
“In speaking with gang leaders, they (officers) may get some sort of intelligence with respect to what is happening in communities to mount anti-crime initiatives. So in that instance, it would not be alarming. What would be alarming, is if there is evidence coming to my attention that there is collusion of some kind,” he added.
Regarding how the information gathered during the SoE two years ago affected the operations of the Police Service, Richardson reiterated his call made in yesterday’s Newsday for the public to exercise patience as the police continued to work towards returning the country to a state of peace.
“It takes a lifetime for these guys (criminals) to reach where they are. It didn’t happen in two years, so it won’t be fixed in two years either. But that said, let me say that soon, very soon the public will see the result of two years of hard labour by our Police Service,” Richardson assured.
It was when he was asked about the number of persons who have been killed that Richardson disclosed that after last week’s murders of six persons in the area, “40 lives were saved”.
“When we lost six persons (in Port-of-Spain) last week, because of the intervention of the police and the things that we did, we saved over 40 lives. So (look at) how many we have saved, how many we have moved from there and put into safe houses. That is the sort of thing we do daily, yet it is not as publicised,” he said.
Teaming up with the DPP
Addressing how they planned to tackle gang violence, Williams noted the police are working closely with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on using available laws to combat crime.
“If we are looking at the functions of the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit for instance, you will see that they have been mandated to liaise as they pursue matters with the DPP for levels of guidance, especially when it comes to the use of the Anti Gang Act. You see, the Act is a new law and as such, we need the guidance from the DPP as we go forth with prosecuting persons. Once we gather evidence against individuals and we get the all clear from the DPP, we will in fact be charging individuals accordingly,” Williams said.
Evidence, he said, was key to the enforcement of the Act.
“Under normal circumstances, any police officer...can charge an individual for an offence once he or she is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence which can afford a successful prosecution. The challenge though is in dealing with the Anti Gang Act. It is extremely important for us not to repeat previous mistakes. Our officers will not be proceeding to charge anyone (under) the Act, even if I am satisfied that we can prosecute someone, without the guidance of the DPP. This is because the DPP has the authority to override the decision and basically stop the proceedings in court,” Williams said.
Williams also noted that 2013, thus far, has been a successful year for the police service, even though the public perception may be that the police are losing the crime fight.
On this point he referred to a column by senior investigative reporter Andre Bagoo, in last weekend’s Sunday Newsday, that dealt with crime statistics which showed crime had declined in the last three years, and was especially low during the 2011 SoE.
“The facts are, we hit an all-time high with murders in 2008 with 547 deaths. You know what were the figures in 2011 and 2012? Three hundred and fifty two and 379 respectively. Check the distinction between 547 and 352 and 379, and then look at the murder rate for 2013. As at this moment we are still less than the figures in 2012,” he said. Newsday’s checks revealed there have been 245 murders as of yesterday as opposed to 267 for the same period in 2012.