Poor customer service, poor attitude by the Sargeant, a lack of communication skills, a need greater interaction between police on patrol and residents, more involvement with schoolchildren, and too many guns in Moriah were among issues highlighted by residents who gathered at the Des Vignes Road Government Primary School last Wednesday for a police town meeting.
Resident Iroy Des Vignes contended that poor communication skills and customer service had caused him to come into conflict with the police, stemming from an instance when he was sitting opposite his grandmother’s parlour and was approached by a policeman in an official vehicle.
“He asked me what I was doing there, then he said come here. I watched him and I told him that ‘that is not how you address people.’ He came out of the vehicle and held onto my hand, and I then asked him ‘what was the issue.’ The two other officers came out (of the vehicle) with a gun and began circling me… I was confused, and I asked them, ‘what was really happening.’ It was then he (policeman) asked for my identification card and held onto my pocket which made me feel very uncomfortable because they did not even identify themselves,” DesVignes related.
He said, as horrified as he was, he asked the officer for identification, which was when the officer started shouting at him.
“Sometimes a situation may be escalating and there are persons who may be able to offset it and bring back some kind of control… but then I find it wasn’t happening in that way, it just kept escalating and then they just left and went their way. “Regardless of status or post we may hold, we are all individuals and some point must be drawn where we must be able to efficiently communicate with each other,” he said.
In response, Senior Superintendent, Joanne Archie, apologising to Des Vignes, said she agreed that the matter could have been dealt with differently.
“We need to understand that hostility breathes hostility, but respect gets respect. While we are trying to bridge that gap between the police and members of the public, we are by no means a perfect organisation, and we would train our officers in customer service and how they should interact with members of the public. I do apologise for that treatment that you were subjected to and I understand how you felt,” Archie said.
Tobago House of Assembly Councillor Kwesi Des Vignes, who lives in the area, reported that persons have told him about a worrying instance where police executed a search warrant at a football game.
“There is a team that executes warrants and there was a situation where there was the execution of a warrant during a football game. It led to a foot chase and shots were discharged as well, it (the gunshot) was discharged in the air to be fair to the officers, but eventually they did hold the gentleman.
Are the police doing their job… is there another way that they can do it?” he asked.
In response, ACP Garfield Moore said that the matter could have definitely been dealt with differently.
“This worries us because it is a trend that we are seeing happening in the midst of playing a game, could the officers not have waited until the game was finished. I don’t know what the circumstances were but to me that would have been the best approach.
“I know some time, they may have been looking for that person for months and they couldn’t find him but the enthusiasm as they see him… but I think the best approach would have been to wait until the game was finished,” said Moore.
Resident Hugh Broome, a proprietor in the area, called for officers on police patrols to stop and engage the proprietors rather than just blowing their horns and driving on by, and for officers to turn on the police lights on vehicles while on patrol at nights.
Broome also called attention to the attitude of the Station’s Sargeant, saying that ‘the last time we had a little meeting at the station and I wasn’t too happy with her remarks.”
“I decided not to go back to any meetings in the station because as a Sargeant, we need for you to be with the people and not have the people running from you,” he said.
Moore, in response, said that there is no law stopping the use of the blue lights by policemen on patrol, and that officers decide when to use the lights or not based on their situation.
Moore also said officers on patrols have been asked to stop, interact, have little conversations with residents from time to time.
“You also spoke about the attitude of the Sargeant, which we do not condone,” he said.
Resident Anthony Bruce, also a proprietor, also complained about the attitude of the Sargeant, as well as police non-action, citing a case in which he said he was a victim of vehicle theft and housebreaking.
“My vehicle got stolen, it was secured and left in my yard. I made a report and things didn’t go well, early o’clock the police said that they couldn’t do anything for me.
“I was met with the force of the Sargeant and I must admit that I called her ‘Judge Judy,’ telling her that she was a bully because that is how she came across. Based on the amount of things that happens in Moriah, I think that the Sargeant needs a little help. “There are also too many guns in Moriah. I was standing in a place in Moriah and a young man walked up to me and showed me his gun…I am afraid to tell the Sargeant that I am scared,” he said.
Moore told Bruce that his evidence on car theft was not enough for the police to prosecute, and that it was not a case of larceny but using the vehicle without the owner’s consent.
“With regards the verbal abuse (by the Sargeant), we would address that from our level to ensure that we have some smooth communication,” he said.
Bruce suggested that the Moriah Police unit was “overwhelmed,” suffering from a shortage of manpower.
“I would like you, the senior people, to use your influence to assist the officers who are in that department to be a little more proactive in the sense that I would like to see the Community Police come to my school and in fact to other schools in the North to talk to the students,” he said, also asking for an increase the number of officers in the unit to allow this to happen.
Moore agreed with Bruce on this initiative, saying there were plans to get involved but that it would take a lot of manpower.