More prison officers will be buried if the crime crisis gripping the country is not dealt with.
This is the dire warning president of the Prison Officers Association (POA) Ceron Richards gave as he led a silent protest yesterday outside the Office of the Attorney General in Port of Spain. The protest came after prison officer Richard Sandy was gunned down while liming at a bar in Gasparillo on the weekend. His killer is a former prisoner.
“The purpose of this protest is to highlight the deafening silence coming from government as it pertains to the demise of our colleagues out there in society. With the last killing being that of Richard Sandy, we have taken note of this deafening silence from the State,” Richards said.
“This morning we are at the AG’s office because he is responsible for drafting and bringing laws before the Parliament. We ask the government to enact a Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act similar to what exists in the United States, Australia and Northern Ireland, countries that face the same issues as we are facing in TT," he added.
Richards said law enforcement officers face attack by criminals daily. No one, not police or soldier or prison officer is excluded. “Law enforcement officers are not immune to this phenomenon as over 20 prison officers in two short decades were killed in this country. In five years, over eight officers were shot and five murdered. TT has the highest rate of law enforcement officers killings per capita in the Commonwealth Caribbean,” he claimed.
Richards said there is an "extraordinary lack of commitment" from the government and all previous governments pertaining to the issue of safety of officers. And what is worse, is that the current National Security Minister (Edmund Dillon) is a retired member of an arm of law enforcement, namely the military.
“We are calling for this Act which gives qualified law enforcement officials the right to carry a concealed firearm after meeting a rigid criterion, for the protection of themselves and their families,” said Richards. “As a nation we cannot continue burying our heads in the sand. Criminals have gotten very brave and are challenging authority more openly.”
He said prison officers are a key agent of the state apparatus to enforce the law and ensure the citizenry enjoy a crime free and good quality of life. However, officers are left demotivated because their very commitment to the State leaves them vulnerable to attack by criminals.
The proposal for a law allowing off-duty officers to possess a licensed firearm was first raised with this government by the POA in 2016 during a meeting with AG Faris Al-Rawi in Port of Spain. “We wrote the AG on two separate occasions and asked him to consider a number of laws in the interest of the protection of prison officers and by an extension law enforcement officers.”
The POA was contacted by the AG to have a meeting at his office comprising the POA’s second division, first division and the AG’s attorneys to study the association's proposal. “That committee met twice and from that time to now, we cannot help but believe this government has no intention of considering our proposals,” Richards said.
He called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, in his capacity as Chairman of the National Security Council and Minister Dillon, to meet with the POA and work towards creating laws to protect citizens.