NAPARIMA MP Rodney Charles said he was wary about increased penalties for not assisting a police officer who is being assaulted.
He was contributing to debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Law Enforcement Officers) Bill in the House yesterday.
He said the Opposition would support the bill but again the Government was hoping that increased penalties would act as a deterrent to crime while not addressing the other areas. He added that 98 per cent of the national security expenditure was at the back end of crime and only two per cent to reduce people entering the pipeline.
Charles also said that the legislation is based on anecdotal information and not empirical data. He commented on Section 60 of the bill increased the penalty for refusal to assist a police officer who is assaulted in the execution of his duties.
"This needs explanation and it needs education of the citizens. I am, as I say, very strong. I like to fight. As I say, I am a descendant of the Merikins (African-American marines are former slaves who established a community in south Trinidad) and we dealt in 1812 with the US empire. But I would think twice in these days, in these troubled times, to intervene to assist a police officer on pain of recognising if I do not do so I could face imprisonment for one year and $50,000."
He said people would like to obey the law "but self-preservation is the first law of nature."
National Security Minister Stuart Young said the section is an interesting concept and one that is exists in the common law. He said it was now being put into statute and capture it via legislation.
“When a police officer is carrying out his or her duties if you see him or her being assaulted by people etcetera we are saying you too have a duty to try and assist the police officer. Obviously it wouldn’t be to put your life at peril but it would be to provide that assistance where you can. We just ask that people be very safe when doing this.”
Young recalled that in his first month as minister there was the murder of two prison officers and other officers had also lost their lives.
"It hurt me to see this used as a political football."
He said that the ministry heard the cries and pleas from the officers and decided to find another methodology to offer them protection. The bill increased fines or penalties for anyone who assaults or takes retaliatory action against officers and this will be married with the provision of equipment to officers such as stab vests and an increased number of handguns and firearms, as well as the operation of a multi-agency task force.
He said the bill also increased penalties for breaches of duty by officers who engage in smuggling or trafficking of contraband.
"It makes it dangerous for other officers."
Young lamented the unfortunate phenomenon of smuggling contraband into prisons such as dangerous drugs, firearms and mobile telephones.
The bill also makes an offence of people who are incarcerated communicating with people in the outside.
"We have found that those who are incarcerated and supposed to be facing a loss of their liberty and their rights are continuing to conduct their criminal empires from within the prison and...also to call for nefarious acts and call for criminality and attacks on persons outside the prison."
He said that act would be constituted a crime and any prison officer who engaged in this activity would for the first time be subject to particular penalties.