LAST MONTH’S declaration by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith that disciplinary action in relation to the so-called day of total policing in 2015 is now time-barred appears to have closed one of the most embarrassing chapters in the history of policing in TT.
The events of Monday, March 23, 2015, were chaotic. On that day there were 29 roadblock exercises conducted within seven of the nine divisions in TT; 341 officers were involved. They embarked on a nationwide operation which resulted in gridlock and massive traffic congestion. The motoring public was severely affected and the loss to productivity was in the millions of dollars.
Such an event was believed to be linked to salary negotiations. Whatever the motivation, it must not happen again. According to Griffith, the day of total policing was a day of total stupidity. Yet how it was followed up is equally unsatisfactory.
A lone police officer was appointed to produce an initial report on the case, a full parliamentary committee examined the matter, and the police watchdog, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), also conducted its own inquiry. Eventually, the police probe was stopped by Stephen Williams who said the police could go no further since the PCA had started an investigation. In the end, the PCA took a full two years to complete its probe and recommended criminal charges. But now, according to Griffith, legal precedent rules out any action because of the passage of time.
Not only must we ensure the disruption that occurred never happens again, but we must also ensure the complete lack of accountability, brought about by delays and red tape which effectively served to frustrate the interest of justice, do not recur.
Meanwhile, perhaps the last word on this should be those of the lone officer who was tasked, at the height of the crisis back in 2015, with the gargantuan undertaking of investigating the event. In a widely shared report, Vincel Edwards found malicious obedience, a breakdown of police systems, and breaches of regulations.
His report states, “For a brief moment (senior officers) lost control of their divisions and stations respectively to a small group of junior officers.” Further, were it not for the intervention of high-ranking officers, “the information obtained suggested that the said officers would have taken control of the streets of Trinidad and Tobago again by 2 pm the said Monday 23rd March, 2015.”
The police have enough on their hands at the moment. But the powers that be must learn lessons from what occurred on March 23, 2015. More importantly, the Parliament, the PCA and the officials charged with the administration of justice in this country should learn from the State’s deeply disappointing response.