TWO days after four security companies were selected to patrol parts of Trinidad to help the police, the Prime Minister said the scheme should be cancelled.
National Security Minister Stuart Young, in a media briefing on Wednesday, said after hearing members of the public say they felt safe without added security, the Residential Patrol System was axed.
Young said he met with the companies – Amalgamated, Allied, Innovative Technologies and Protective Agencies – last Thursday.
On Wednesday he thanked them for their ability to be operational within days, as they had begun work on Monday.
The patrol revived the concept of the Community Comfort Patrols (CCP), implemented in 2014 by Gary Griffith, then national security minister and now Police Commissioner.
The PNM, which was then in opposition, sharply criticised the patrols, and continued to do so after winning the 2015 general election.
In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Griffith said the aim was to provide round-the-clock security in non-hotspot areas where residents could not afford to pay for private security themselves.
Director of the Office of Law Enforcement Policy (OLEP) Keith Renaud, under whose authority the CCP fell, said he could not remember some of the areas served by the patrols, but recalled Trincity being one of them.
In 2014, 250 officers patrolled 15 residential areas areas from Carenage to Santa Rosa. The second phase was slated to extend beyond north Trinidad to include Chaguanas, Pleasantville, Union Hall and Golconda.
Renaud could not recall the overall cost.
Young said the cancelled patrols would have been less extensive than those implemented in the past, and the cost had been reduced from $95,000 to $87,000 for each patrol per month. His release on Wednesday announcing the scheme had said it would take place in exactly the same areas as the previous patrols.
The new project was scheduled to end on May 5. The present stay-at-home restrictions are due to end on April 30.
Young did not respond to a Whatsapp message asking whether the value of the full contract would be paid to the companies or how many patrols each company was contracted to do. He said there were checks and balances in place to assure that taxpayers were getting value for money.
Griffith said the cost would have been 20-30 per cent less this time, because the operational cost was not going to be paid by the State but each security company.
Population feels safe enough
Appearing at the end of Wednesday morning's government briefing, Young said, "It has become apparent in the last 12-24 hours that the population of TT believe they currently feel safe enough and there is no need to add any additional layer of security to what our Defence Force and police service are doing. It is clear that many people already feel secure and believe there is no need for this extra proactive measure that was designed and being implemented to give extra comfort to the population of TT.
"We have heard from the population, and are very happy to hear that the population feel secure without the need for any additional measure that was not even going to cost a fraction of what other measures are costing.”
Young insisted the cancellation had nothing to do with the backlash over the way the announcement was made. The news had come in a release from his ministry the previous afternoon.
He said it was the confirmation by the public that they felt safe enough that led him to meet with Dr Rowley, who told him to cancel the project.
The idea, Young said, arose from a meeting a few weeks ago with the police, Defence Force, Prisons and other intelligence-gathering units in their planning and plotting of “eventualities and possibilities” that may arise from the covid19 pandemic. The security companies were selected to supplement the work of the police because they already have the training and platform needed. The security guards were not given any additional powers, he emphasised.
Young: Defence Force already active
Addressing the opinion expressed after the announcement on Tuesday that the Defence Force can and should be used, rather than private security firms, Young said the Defence Force is already assisting in the covid19 fight. He dismissed a video being circulated that claimed the Defence Force were in camp “shining boots,” and itemised things the troops are doing to assist with the covid19 fight.
This included building a centre for the socially displaced at Riverside Plaza, Port of Spain. The Defence Force also prepared two covid19 facilities in Caura and Couva and other facilities in Sangre Grande and NAPA, as well as transporting patients to and from designated covid19 treatment centres. They were also moving beds, “while the vast majority of the nation was sleeping” and are providing security at two of the covid19 facilities.
The Coast Guard up to Wednesday morning transported a Tobagonian to Trinidad for covid19 care, while the Defence Force continued joint patrols with the police and the Inter Agency Task Force, he said. Apart from that, they are engaged in standby operations“to launch at a moment’s notice.”
He said he could not disclose some of the other operations. He stressed that the Defence Force "has been constantly called upon to provide support.”
“So in our preparation and planning for what may happen, we believed, on the urging of the TT Police Service, with the consultation with the National Operation Fusion Centre and Defence Force, that we could have utilised the private security firms.”
Young said the idea of this “proactive measure” came from the police and Defence Force in a “direct conversation and suggestions.” Griffith denied this, saying it was government policy, which he was willing to adhere to.
In July 2014, Dr Keith Rowley, then opposition leader, criticised the comfort patrols, saying untrained, unknown people were driving through neighbourhoods pretending to be police.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh told Parliament in 2018 that the previous government had spent $120 million on renting vehicles for a year for the patrols, but the only beneficiary was the company that got the contract.