By Raffique Shah
August 24, 2013
Not since late Commissioner of Police Jules Bernard publicly declared, “I’m a toothless bulldog!” have I heard so many outlandish statements coming from the mouths of senior officers of the Police Service.
“Criticism hurts,” screams Acting CoP Stephen Williams. Yet, Williams and his most senior officers say and do the most ludicrous things, inviting not just criticism, but oftentimes, bellyfuls of laughter.
I almost rolled on the floor with laughter when I read the Express headline, “I thought it was a coup!” The newspaper was quoting Deputy CoP Mervyn Richardson, as he sought to explain why he arrested OWTU president Ancel Roget last week during a joint trade unions protest demonstration outside the Hall of Justice.
Now, Richardson could have arrested Roget and all the protestors, if he was so minded, for infringement of two laws, one that forbids wearing masks (outside of Carnival), and other for engaging in a public march without police permission. They would have challenged his action in court, but he might have secured convictions.
Instead, the DCP sprang into action because he thought a coup was underway! He drew this conclusion because “…those persons there had their faces covered, dressed in black and had black pieces of sticks in their hands with flags…”
So sticks, flags and masks signal a coup. Is this man a comedian? When someone as senior as Richardson makes such a statement, people lose respect for him, and by extension, for the Police Service.
One day earlier, secretary of the Police Social and Welfare Association, Ag Inspector Michael Seales, told the media that the massive police/army raid in East Port of Spain, in which communities were “locked down” for several hours and over 100 people arrested and later released without being charged, was part of a “fact-finding mission”.
In a most astonishing statement, Seales told the Express, “Charges would come later when they are re-arrested. They would not be released this time. It was a fact-finding mission in terms of the gathering of evidence…”
So now we the public, and the targeted men, know that they will be re-arrested, and when that happens, they will not be released. I am sure those men and others of similar ilk will sit around patiently and await future raids! And pray that the police do not conduct any fact-finding operation in your neighbourhood.
What a statement coming out of the mouth of a senior police officer! In normal circumstances, the police use a range of intelligence-gathering techniques—electronic, undercover agents, informants—to gather justiciable evidence against suspected criminals. When arrests are made, with the element of surprise, I need add, the dossiers on the culprits are so damning, the suspects could hardly escape justice.
But not in Trinidad: here, the police arrest first and later look for evidence to lay charges. Little wonder they have made virtually no headway in reining in crime, notwithstanding the CoP’s protestations to the contrary. Gangsters continue to rub their notoriety in our faces. Williams slams the media for featuring alleged crime bosses on their front pages. But if they are running rings around the police, that is news.
Speaking of the acting Commissioner, he too made another statement that has no basis in law. Addressing the Roget issue, he warned, “Once you engage in a public meeting or march without permission, it is illegal.”
You are wrong, Commissioner. Section 109 (1) of the Summary Offences Act states, “A person who desires to hold or call together any public meeting shall, at least forty-eight hours but no more than fourteen days before the day on which it is proposed to hold such meeting, notify the Commissioner of Police.”
“Notify” is the operative word here. There are other requirements, such as details of the person or persons calling the meeting, location, time, etc.. But there is no requirement to seek the CoP’s permission. If, upon receipt of the notification, the Commissioner “has reasonable ground for apprehending that the holding of such meeting may occasion a breach of the peace or public disorder”, he may impose conditions on the convenor, or prohibit the meeting.
I note the above not to make the Commissioner look uninformed, but because ignorance of this particular law has resulted many breaches on the part of the police, and here I speak from personal experience. In similar vein, last week the Law Association condemned the mass arrests in East Port of Spain, advising that the police, in fighting crime, adhere to the rule of law.
When procedures are breached, people who may be guilty of heinous crimes easily walk free, as they have done in the past, repeatedly. We all want to see crime contained if not eliminated. We support the authorities—Government, the police, the judiciary—implementing properly planned and executed initiatives to this end.
But please, police officers, spare us the comedy. The politicians have already cornered that market.
I dedicate this column to Cecil Bernard, soldier, officer, gentleman, attorney, judge, and most of all a very decent human being. CB, who made the final transition last week, also had a tremendous sense of humour. Wherever you are, Ces, have a hearty laugh.