THE latest round in a very public spat between the head of government and the head of the police service saw the Prime Minister summoning or possibly inviting Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to a meeting on Monday at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
The two have been at odds over the police’s ability to enforce public health restrictions to combat the spread of covid19.
The meeting came two days after Rowley asked the police to let everyone feel the full brunt of the law if they contravened public health regulations.
This was in the wake of a video of a group of people liming at a communal pool at Bayside Towers in Cocorite, last week despite rules calling for public gatherings to be limited to no more than five people.
CoP Griffith fired back the next day, telling his officers to ignore the prime minister’s advice and claiming the police had been “thrown under the bus” by the prime minister.
Accompanying the top cop to Monday’s meeting were acting deputy commissioners of police Jayson Forde and Mc Donald Jacob. Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Faris Al-Rawi and National Security Minister Stuart Young were on the PM’s team. The meeting was to discuss the difference of opinion on the police’s powers and enforcement of covid19 laws. It is still unclear what powers the police have under the Public Health Ordinance.
On Saturday, Rowley called on them to enforce public health regulations equally as he addressed public concern over their approach to private parties.
Newsday made several unsuccessful attempts throughout the day on Monday to get details of what was discussed during the face-off between Rowley and Griffith and also if there was consensus on dealing with covid19 parties in the future.
Asked if there will be a release on what was discussed in the meeting and final decisions made, communications officer at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Abby Braithwaite told Newsday no further information will be issued other than what was already posted on the OPM’s Facebook page.
For his part, police communications manager Francis Joseph said the police will not issue any release on Monday’s meeting and the police’s approach in dealing with covid19 parties and other contravention of public health restrictions.
On Monday afternoon, the OPM said on its Facebook page that CoP Griffith, Forde and Jacob had been summoned to a meeting by the PM.
Griffith then issued a release, not to say what the meeting was about and whether consensus was reached, but rather to declare he had not been “summoned.” Griffith said the use of the word “summoned” by the communications unit of the OPM was unfortunate and “could try (sic) and put the Prime Minister in such a bad light when that certainly was not the atmosphere and purpose of the meeting at the Diplomatic Centre.”
He added, “It is unfortunate the communications unit of the Office of the Prime Minister does not understand the difference between ‘invited’ and ‘summoned.’” He said the invitation came from Young.
Griffith added that the meeting was “very cordial, and now the emphasis will be on all parties moving forward to ensure that the Public Health Ordinance regulations are adhered to by members of the public during the covid19 pandemic.”
On Saturday, at his press conference, Rowley was clear in his views. “The law applies across the board, especially those whose priority is partying...Persons who are partying and spreading this virus must feel the full brunt of the law in TT,” he said.
“It is not for me to tell the Commissioner of Police who to arrest and who not to arrest and how to apply the law. But, as Prime Minister, I can tell the commissioner that the law must apply to protect us in TT from those who are not prepared to listen.”
It was reported that last week, when other residents of Bayside Towers saw the pool party in progress, they summoned the police, who gave the limers a warning, which did not appear to cause the lime to stop.
On Sunday, Griffith responded that he was disappointed by Rowley’s comments, especially as there was nothing in the regulations to allow police to enter private property without a warrant and charge people for violating the Public Health Ordinance. He called on the government to give clear directives on how the police should enforce the law.
The disagreement began after Griffith said on September 9, during a press briefing, that free private parties on private compounds are allowed but not condoned. He said then that police don’t have the power to stop these parties or make arrests.
These comments contradicted an April 11 release in which the CoP said, “To those who believe the police do not have the authority to stop activities on private property that can affect lives during covid19, yes, we can.”
In that release, he said the police have that right under Section 133 of the Public Health Ordinance, which gives them authority to enter any land or building and do what is necessary to save lives.
Contacted for his view on the public spat between Rowley and Griffith, president of the Law Association Douglas Mendes told Newsday he had to consider other aspects before making an official comment.
This story has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and acting deputy commissioners of police Jayson Forde and Mc Donald Jacob were summoned by the Prime Minister to a meeting at the Diplomatic Centre on Monday after a public disagreement on the enforcement of public health laws.
The meeting came after Dr Rowley called on police to enforce public health regulations equally, as he addressed public concerns surrounding the police’s approach to private parties. Rowley spoke on the issue last Saturday during a press conference and addressed the apparent inaction by the police against a group of people who hosted a poolside party at Bayside Towers, one week ago.
When police arrived, the group got a mere warning, which did not interrupt the birthday celebrations.
Rowley said, “The law applies across the board, especially those whose priority is partying...Persons who are partying and spreading this virus must feel the full brunt of the law in TT.”
He said, “It is not for me to tell the Commissioner of Police who to arrest and who not to arrest and how to apply the law. But, as Prime Minister, I can tell the Commissioner of Police that the law must apply to protect us in TT from those who are not prepared to listen…”
The commissioner responded to Rowley's criticism on Sunday saying he was disappointed by his comments which in effect threw the police “under the proverbial bus.”
Griffith said there is nothing in the regulations to allow police to enter private property without a warrant and charge people for committing violations of the Public Health Ordinance.“Is the issue with this Bayside matter the number of people, or the fact it was a party, or the fact it was on social media, or the fact that they are perceived as rich?”
Griffith called on the government to give clear directives on how the police should enforce the laws to prevent the spread of covid19.
Also present at Monday's meeting was Attorney General Faris al-Rawi and the Minister of National Security Stuart Young.