POLICE Commissioner Gary Griffith says the police cannot go “witch hunting” to arrest people or turn a blind eye and release anyone on the basis of ethnic composition.
In a three-page media release on Friday, the commissioner sought to, once again, clarify the police’s powers under covid19 regulations, particularly as it relates to the congregation of people in private and public places.
Griffith, however, did not miss the opportunity to once again accuse the media of bias, inaccuracies and speculation regarding the duties of the TTPS in its management of the Public Health Ordinance. In particular, he singled out Newsday and its editor-in-chief Judy Raymond, "where for the 18th consecutive time, she has written a negative editorial on the TTPS, as she alludes now that the police is at fault for enforcing laws that are drafted, and should also be taking actions in incidents when we have no authority to do so."
While Newsday has indeed written several editorials on the performance of the police service, they have not been consecutive.
The Police Commissioner has become known for attacks on his critics. He frequently disparages the media in long press releases meant to clarify and justify police action, notably on issues that have caused public outcry, for example, alleged police killings this year (up 80 per cent from last year), unrest in East Port of Spain, investigations into alleged misconduct against officers, and now, the alleged class bias regarding enforcement of the Public Health Ordinance.
He has also directly attacked media houses and reporters beyond Raymond and Newsday, with Trinidad Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder and investigative reporter Denyse Renne also being frequent targets of Griffith's ire. He is also known for responding to social media posts and criticism from the public on Facebook, often to insult the original poster as being ignorant in police strategy and thus incompetent to criticise his behaviour or action.
In Friday's release, Griffith reminded that an investigation into the Bayside Towers incident was ongoing.
“As it pertains to claims of the TTPS not wanting to ‘touch’ certain perceived ‘classes’ within society, please note, apart from the organisers of the event, who would be questioned as this investigation continues, all the other patrons were non-nationals.
“Why would the TTPS seek to be bias(ed) or give preferential treatment to non-nationals when hundreds continue to be arrested on varying matters?” he questioned.
He also added that when police responded to Bayside Towers, there were guests of residents scattered around the pool but not 40, as was being claimed.
“The police simply enforces the law.”
He said the regulations were clear and insisted that the police “cannot and do not” work on arresting some based on skin complexion.
“This is based solely on what authority we have, which is in a public space. In Bayside, it is not a public space and even the pool area is not accessible to the public so as much as many demand that the police arrest persons based on perceptions of bias for or against, it is simply that the present regulations do not give us authority to do it."
He also spoke of the arrests in August at a house in Valsayn and the warning given to a group of young men in Sea Lots in April, where the 27 people detained, most of them minors, were given a lecture by the police on the dangers of their actions. They were all released with a warning. Police swept down on the community hours after another video showed a group from the Sea Lots area partying by the seashore and using expletives.
There was also an accompanying video clip showing a group of young boys lying on their stomachs after police went to the community.
Since the Bayside Towers event, there have been pictures on social media juxtaposed with pictures showing the Sea Lots group.
Griffith said at the Sea Lots incident a law was broken and severl people ran and hid on sight of police and, even then, no arrests were made. He said at the Bayside event no law was being broken and no one tried to escape.
In Valsayn, Griffith said police went there with a warrant for illegal weapons. The commissioner added that the venue was rented for an event and there were reports of there being a cover charge to enter. He said the event was open to the public in breach of the regulations and 32 people were arrested and charged.
The commissioner also referred to statements by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who on Thursday said the police have warned residents at other residential and gated communities.
He also had a response to bar owners, who also called for clarity on the regulations, saying the consumption of alcohol “behind closed doors” was in breach of regulations – it only permits a take-away service – and negated the concept of bars being private property.
Griffith said while private property cannot be “shut down” as would be the case of banks and supermarkets, police can find other ways to deter people from breaching the public health regulations, if lives were at stake. He also said the police can also utilise other legislation, such as the EMA Act as it relates to noise pollution, set up road blocks or conduct DUI tests if they are unable to arrest anyone.