A former government minister and member of the Police Service Commission are once again calling for an internal affairs unit to be set up to investigate criminal misconduct among rogue officers.
Their position stems from agreement with the Police Complaints Authority’s (PCA) recommendations for structural changes in the Police Service, as well as criminal charges against officers for their conduct in the 2015 Day of Total Policing.
The action, carried out on March 23, 2015, created a traffic nightmare for commuters as police officers held road blocks and search exercises throughout the country. It was believed the action was taken as a result of stalled salary negotiations. The David West-led PCA, which investigated the exercise, released its findings on Friday, recommending, among other things, that criminal charges be brought against some police officers.
It also recommended the restructuring of the Special Branch and the country’s intelligence-gathering capabilities as well as a strengthening of the management/supervisory infrastructure with the TTPS.
Former national security minister Gary Griffith and PSC member, attorney Martin George, yesterday told Sunday Newsday the recommendations were a step in the right direction.
“These are the things that are required to ensure accountability and it shows that we have a shortcoming in the measurement of performance of the few rogue officers in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service,” said Griffith.
George agreed. “It is excellent that the PCA has bitten the bullet and stepped forward and made some tough and stern recommendations because one of the biggest problems plaguing the TT Police Service is the fact that the does not appear to be enough robust and rigorous internal discipline and policing of the police themselves and that is what the nation has been calling for for years,” he said.
Although the Professional Standards Bureau exists, both men felt an internal affairs unit, similar to what obtains in North America and other jurisdictions, to monitor the conduct of officers, should be established.
“In our Police Service, there is no one guarding the guards. So, it cannot be himself unto himself and therein lies the problem, where a senior police officer might not want to discipline other police officers because they all in the same uniform,” said Griffith.
“But you must have an internal affairs unit that has the authority to investigate police officers, get findings and it gives them the authority for disciplinary action to be taken in the absence of the Commissioner of Police not doing what is required. We do not have that.”
George said the TTPS executive needs to be more serious and proactive in terms of its internal disciplinary procedures.
“Until we do that, we will never fix the problem. We will only be reactive instead of being proactive. You need to be proactive and have officers all the time observing things and nipping it in the bud. The hierarchy of the Police Service has not demonstrated that level of seriousness about dealing with rogue officers and we need to be more diligent in terms of policing the police,” he said.
Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams received strong criticism from Griffith for not investigating what occurred.
“What I thought was alarming was that the Commissioner of Police, whether you are acting or not, you are given the same authority and responsibility to hire, fire as you see fit and he has never lifted a finger. Therein lies the problem. Leadership has obviously been lacking and the ball has been dropped.” Recalling an incident some years ago when several officers had walked off their posts whilst securing a prime minister, Griffith said: “This is why it is important that some level of disciplinary action must be taken when incidents like this take place. They all claimed they were sick at the same time but nothing was done. All of those officers should have been fired. Those are the things that are required to ensure that all police officers understand the responsibility they have and it will root out the rogue elements.”
Despite its findings, Griffith regarded the PCA as “a toothless bulldog making recommendations that might not very well be adhered to and implemented.”