A-TEAM TO FIGHT CRIME
By Nalinee Seelal Sunday, June 22 2014
A special National Security unit comprising 80 specially selected, highly skilled and trained officers from the Police, Defence Force, Coast Guard, Immigration and other law enforcement agencies is being set up to deal specifically with gang violence, counter-terrorism, hostage negotiation and any major criminal activities.
The unit, known as the Special Operations Group (SOG), and with a mandate to bring crime down to a minimum level in the coming months, is expected to start operations as early as this week and will be co-ordinated by the National Operations Centre under Commander Garvin Herrah.
SOG officers will report directly to the Actg Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj.
National Security Minister Gary Griffith confirmed to Sunday Newsday the formation of this elite unit, declaring that had such a unit been in place prior to 1990, the events leading up to the coup attempt of July 27 that year might not have taken place or could have been averted or dealt with differently.
Asked by Sunday Newsday if this unit was Government’s anti-crime plan, Griffith said:
“My job is not to come up with crime plans, no government official could come up with crime plans and my role and functions is to provide the logistics, administrative and financial support for law enforcement agencies to go out and do their jobs, so what I am doing is providing policies and the team such as the SOG.”
He said the SOG would deal with gang activities if and when required in particular hot spot areas. He also said the various intelligence agencies would pass on intelligence gathered at the ground level to the SOG for action.
“This group will be our front-line A-team for National Security and the members would focus on drugs and arms and ammunition entering the country, infiltrating crime hot spots, dealing with any threats to the country and any major criminal activity,” Griffith said.
“These officers consist of the best of the best, they are highly trained in all aspects,” he added, reminding that persons involved in gang activities would be targeted by this group in an effort to stamp out gang violence in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sunday Newsday understands the unit was seen as a crucial need to circumvent the reported leaking of key information to criminal elements by certain members of the protective services and which has allegedly led to failed police operations and raids.
With the setting up of the SOG, the practice whereby intelligence agencies would pass on information on drugs, guns and other criminal activities to police officers at police stations- with this information reportedly being leaked to the criminal elements from there — would cease; the intelligence agencies would now pass the information to SOG for action.
SOG is expected to address the issue of rogue elements within the national security framework, sources observed.
The elite squad will be based at the National Operations Centre, Air Division at Cumuto which was also the base for the Operations Centre for the now disbanded Special Anti Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT).
Sunday Newsday understands the SOG officers are to be allocated state of the art equipment such as armoured vehicles, high powered weapons, bulletproof vests, and other pieces of equipment to assist them in the execution of their duties.
Sunday Newsday also understands National Security Minister Gary Griffith is expected to travel to London next week to solicit assistance from British law enforcement agencies for further training with the SOG officers.
Reports are that the selected SOG officers have all taken polygraph tests and are to be constantly re-assessed to ensure their trustworthiness as crime fighters.
Over 100 criminal gangs currently operate in Trinidad and Tobago and the National Security agencies have compiled key information on these groups, their leaders and members.
Sunday Newsday understands Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, as head of the National Security Council, has given her blessings for the formation of the SOG, with Government recognising that the escalating levels of crime and the increased sophistication of criminal activity calls for a radical change to the approach in the fight against crime.