Without holding a press conference to announce a crime plan, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith made two sensible announcements over the last two weeks that signalled potentially welcome changes in the TT Police Service. Two weeks ago, Griffith announced a revamp of the E999 Emergency Response Unit and last week, the formation of an elite police unit tasked with bringing closure to high-profile probes.
There have long been concerns about the management of the E999 unit, an eminently good idea that by 2014 had become a source of concern. The rapid response unit, part of a team that responds to emergency calls to the number 999 at the E999 command centre had become notorious for its poor responsiveness. For the CoP to discover that 999 calls weren’t being responded to with the urgency associated with the word emergency isn’t news, but doing something about it certainly is.
Griffith promised that within a few weeks the unit will be resourced with 140 vehicles assigned to directly deal with E999 distress calls. These vehicles will be GPS tracked and monitored from a revamped command centre. The CoP also promised that the unit would begin developing an increased presence outside schools as a secondary assignment.
The elite unit is almost certainly going to be a more difficult project to realise. The history of tip of the spear police units in TT hasn’t been good in recent decades.
The largest scale effort of this kind was the Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT), which was created outside of the formal Police Service hierarchy. This distancing would eventually lead to the downfall of SAUTT, which never got the promised legislative underpinning for its operations and functioned on its soundest footing in an advisory, intelligence gathering capacity to the police force.
Acting CoP James Philbert convened a Project 250 Unit in June 2009, putting 150 officers on duty in four 40-foot containers on an empty plot of land in Chaguanas. By the time the unit was disbanded 15 months later, the officers, assigned to cracking down on traffic offences as well as narcotics and firearms possession felt no sense of loss at leaving behind the rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes they claimed had overtaken the metal shells.
If nothing else, the recent history of elite units in TT policing offers a comprehensive manual on how such things should not be done. With a plan to deal with missing persons cold cases already on the agenda, a capable team focussed on taking effective action on capably gathered intelligence would be a welcome addition to the police teams in the field.
Next up? An accountable chain of custody for evidence gathering and storage of forensic pathology samples that improves case building.