DESPITE having 11 years’ experience as a constable in the Police Service (TTPS), nothing could prepare Surendra Sagramsingh for the chaos and horror which unfolded during the Muslimeen insurrection in 1990.
Speaking with Newsday on Friday – the 28th anniversary of the attempted coup – Sagramsingh, now the acting Snr Supt of the North Eastern Division, said the events took him by surprise and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing on television was reality.
Sagramsingh, who joined the police service in 1979, was, at the time, assigned to the Court and Process Branch and said what he intended to be an exciting Friday night took an unexpectedly terrifying turn when he learned of the insurrection by accident.
“I got home from work just before 6 pm. At the time there was supposed to be a football game at the stadium in Port of Spain, so I just came home to Santa Cruz where I was living at the time to take a shower and head back out for the evening.
“I just happened to turn on the television to catch the ending of the news and I saw these guys with their masks and guns in the station with the presenters. Back in those days we had a short-story series, so I thought it was a skit or a play or something. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real. Only after listening, I realised these guys really took over the country. Not long after I started being bombarded with phone calls telling me what was happening in Port of Spain.”
Sagramsingh said he reported to the Santa Cruz police station for duty, and while he was not exposed to much unrest in that division, the reports coming to them from Port of Spain left him shaken.
He said, at the time, in addition to being out-gunned, police officers were not trained to deal with incidents of such a magnitude but, despite fear and uncertainty, he was grateful for the support and quick thinking of his senior officers during the ordeal.
“In the situation you would naturally be scared. Rumours were circulating that insurgents were attacking (police) stations. In those days our armoury didn’t have assault weapons. There were a few rifles and revolvers, pistols weren’t standard issue as yet. It was crazy because crime wasn’t as rampant as it is now.
“Nothing in our training could have prepared us for that because police at the time had never been exposed to any large-scale unrest. Dealing with insurgents was really the business of the military so we were never prepared for it. But at the end of the day, it was our duty and we had to do something. In those days we had some brilliant senior officers who guided us.”
Sagramsingh said he remained at the Santa Cruz station for three weeks responding to reports of looting and unrest. He said while the incident was terrifying, it was a wake-up call for the Police Service as officers of all ranks were exposed to some level of training in dealing with insurgency. He said he was confident the service and the nation was now better-prepared to deal with such incidents.