‘Powers of arrest’ for 1,000 soldiers
By ANDRE BAGOO Saturday, August 18 2012
IN ADDITION to 5,000 new police officers, the State will give 1,000 members of the Defence Force powers of arrest, Minister of National Security Jack Warner has said.
In his first contribution in the House of Representatives as the Minister of National Security, Warner said the State will deploy “1,000 members of the Defence Force, who shall be precepted; who can arrest”.
Warner did not say how the soldiers will be so empowered, but questioned by Newsday, he said the officers will be “precepted subject to the approval of the Police Commissioner.” “They will be precepted, that is: given powers of arrest, and shall be armed and shall work throughout Trinidad and Tobago together with the Police,” Warner said. Asked by Newsday if members of the Defence Force who are given arrest powers will be given special training, Warner said this was not necessary. “They do not need any special training,” he argued.
Under the Constitution, the Police Commissioner has the power to make any appointments to any offices of the Police Service, except the top two posts of Police Commissioner and Deputy. Traditionally, police may arrest with or without a warrant, but soldiers may not. Civilians, under the common-law, have powers to carry out citizen arrests, designed to stop persons from engaging in illegal activities in their presence. But under the current Defence Act, soldiers have powers of arrest only in relation to other soldiers who are subject to martial law.
Countries that have given soldiers powers of arrest include, Northern Ireland where on July 31, 2007, soldiers were given powers to stop, question and detain civilians. American soldiers in Iraq also exercised arrest powers. Other countries where soldiers have powers to arrest include: Somalia, Haiti, Israel, Afghanistan and several Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras and Venezuela, whose National Guard, an active branch of the military, is given expressed arrest powers.
Warner’s announcement, during debate of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago and Anti-Terrorism) Bill 2012, came a day after he told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing that the State would have 5,000 Special Reserve Police officers absorbed into the Police Service at a cost of $60 million for 2013. Additionally, Warner said 300 new vehicles would be deployed and officers would be allowed to take home vehicles and, for the first time, police weapons. In relation to taking home weapons there are concerns over the potential for theft, domestic disputes and misuse. President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Anand Ramesar yesterday called for strict regulations to be put in place to screen persons who are allowed to take home weapons.
“We agree with this but there must be pre-requisite; it must not be automatic,” he said. “There should be a proper screening of all those who want to take home their firearms.” He continued, “the Association is not going to bury its head in the sand and say all officers are above board. There are some elements we need to purge ourselves of. Our screening would be one of the things that would reduce the possibility of abuse.”
He said the screening involved should be comprehensive. “It should really determine if the officer is an appropriate person to give a gun to 24/7. The process must also involve interviewing family members; the occupants of the household for them to say whether they are in agreement.” At the same time, Ramesar said there may be advantages to allowing police officers take home their guns. “In terms of the fight against crime there could be benefits having officers have their weapons and vehicles available,” he said. Contacted yesterday on all the initiatives announced, Ag Police Commissioner Stephen Williams was unavailable for comment.
Warner also told Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene Mc Donald that a police post would soon return to the Mango Rose community in her constituency. “Your police post in Mango Rose shall be re-opened,” he said. He spoke of the need to have measures in place to deal with money-laundering and terrorism. “I have no doubt that there are underground arms importation trade networks,” the National Security Minister said.