POLICE are going to ramp up their enforcement of the public health regulations following a directive of newly appointed National Security Minister, Fitzgerald Hinds.
Speaking at Wednesday's Ministry of Health media conference, Hinds, one day into the job, said he was going to meet with Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to ensure that the rules were enforced. One day later, 23 people were ticketed for not wearing masks while six others were held for being on the beach for recreational purposes.
At a media briefing on Thursday, Griffith said his officers, while on patrol, would be paying close attention to parks, rivers, beaches, bars and those wanting to hold private functions.
"The TTPS intends to intensify operational policies to ensure that persons do not beat the system. Persons planning specific events, sometimes they plan events with best intentions such as fundraising events. We will also, monitor parks and playing fields and sometimes food stalls."
He said officers from the Emergency Response Patrol (ERP) as well as the nine police divisional task forces and, when needed, the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) will be used in the exercise so his officers would not be spread too thin.
Griffith said the National Security Ministry will be updated daily on the progress of enforcing the regulations to best guide the Ministry of Health on how to address their covid response. He said the police could only enforce the laws and, while he did not want to be "hard and fast" with a zero-tolerance approach, he called on the population to adhere to the regulations rather than finding ways to beat the system.
Between Wednesday and the time of the briefing, Griffith said 23 people were given tickets for failing to wear face masks. The breakdown included seven in Eastern Division, one in Central, six in the Northern Division, eight in Port of Spain and one in the North Eastern Division. Additionally, six people were ticketed in the Eastern Division after they were found on a beach for recreation.
"The world is in crisis, the nation is in crisis. The faster we adhere to the restrictions the faster we can have and enjoy the activities that we miss. I know many persons will be frustrated, but work with us. We have to enforce the law. And the longer this happens, the restrictions can even be intensified so the faster we all play our part, the faster we can go back to our activities" Griffith urged.
He called on the country to play their part and if they see anyone breaching the regulations, including police officers, they should alert the police. He said it was not about anyone "selling out" their neighbours but a collective responsibility of ensuring that the right thing is done.
He said: "Many persons are frustrated, even myself, I would like to go back and play football. Persons want to go by the doubles vendor and eat there with doubles running down their hand, or want to go to the restaurants nightly cause they can’t cook a cheese sandwich. The faster we get to what is required and persons adhere to the restrictions, is the faster we can get back to the activities we miss."
Griffith threatened to shut down bars if they allowed their patrons to consume alcohol within the precincts of their establishments.
Police, he said have noticed bar patrons have been attempting to beat the system by staying outside bars.
"Public health regulations 4(6) says no one is allowed to congregate within the precincts of the bar. Now we have owners saying it’s just four feet outside the bar but that is not the case. People are now saying they are not immediately outside the bar but are at the house next to the bar. We are not buying it. Any person standing up and in close proximity to the bar, we will ask them to leave and the bar owner, we will hold you responsible."
Griffith said his officers were not the "grim reapers of bars" but the laws will be enforced.
"I will shut them down! They would say it is not my (their) responsibility but it is yours and you know exactly what you are doing. Anything that is seen as an avenue to cause persons to dirnk alcohol in close proxiity to a bar will be recongised as precincts of the bar."
Griffith said while the regulations afforded bars a four-feet diameter, he does not want anyone outside of that congregating and drinking, urging bar owners to take him to court if they are aggrieved by his actions. Griffith also sounded a warning to street food vendors, highlighting the Queen's Park Savannah and Debe, not to allow their customers to lime after purchasing their food items.
Director of the Bar Owners Association of TT (BOATT) Anil Maraj said he welcomed the idea of police enforcing the regulations, something he said BOATT has been calling for since September last year. He said he hope the police will not be selective in their approach but also treat with their colleagues, some of whom are bar owners that sometimes flout the public health regulations.
"We are pretty happy to see the new National Security Minister on this and we hope to see reductions in the numbers (of covid19 cases)" he said adding that he called police on bar owners but got unfavourable responses from the police stations he called.
Griffith said both weddings and funerals that breach the regulations will be stopped. He again called on citizens to do the right thing as he did not want memorable days to be interrupted because of their failure to adhere to the laws.
Police and vaccines
Questioned on police officers refusing to be vaccinated, Griffith, who received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last Saturday, said the police service should be about country before self.
"When I was in the UN mission in Haiti, I got a shot here, two there, shots everywhere, it was mandatory. My training is one if I wear a uniform it is important to national security, maybe things have changed for persons in uniform.
"Eveyrone has rights and attorneys to seek rights of others, but when you wear a uniform you put rights of the country over personal rights. Twenty years ago I can’t think of anyone in unfirom saying they would have a problem with taking the vaccine. Things have changed. That’s all I can say."
There were concerns raised on social media on Wednesday about the number of police officers refusing to be vaccinated. This comes after members of the Defence Force raised concerns over supposed mandatory taking of the vaccines. This was later denied by the Defence Force.
Griffith said there are some 1500 front line officers that are to be vaccinated. He added that after he was vaccinated, he "never felt better" and was looking forward to his second dose.