HAVING tried the carrot of moral suasion, the Government has now asked for the police to administer the stick.
Among his first acts as the new National Security Minister, Fitzgerald Hinds met with Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and other members of the police to address the role of law-enforcement agencies in enforcing the covid19 public health regulations.
The minister effectively threw down the gauntlet, calling on the police to ramp up enforcement.
As a result, Mr Griffith said police would “intensify operational policies.”
In the same breath, he said the police 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.
But was this the directive issued by Mr Hinds?
Whatever the case, it is clear compliance continues to reach new lows.
Newsday photographers were out and about on Tuesday – to take a day at random – in Port of Spain and Chaguanas and captured images of ordinary people going about their business. Many did not seem bothered about wearing masks properly. Nor was physical distancing a pressing concern.
The picture is compounded by reports of family limes in supermarkets, river gatherings, people continuing to party at urban watering holes and post-workout panchayats at parks – even with a ban on recreational sports. The police seem not to notice, or not want to notice such breaches.
Instead, we have seen grand announcements of handfuls of people being arrested. You almost wonder if officials are being facetious by holding up such feeble numbers.
Mr Griffith has spoken of drawing from the police ranks to man the situation better, with 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) to be roped in so his officers would not be spread too thin.
But do we need a specialist enforcement effort, or a new unit? For all their grey areas, it is very easy to understand – and see – when the regulations are being flouted. There is no reason why all police officers across the board cannot implement the rules at any time.
Undoubtedly, officers already have a lot on their plates. And there have been problems with ticketing and legal interpretation. Even the normally indefatigable police commissioner seems fed up of the whole thing.
“Many persons are frustrated, even myself. I would like to go back and play football,” Mr Griffith said last week.
But Mr Griffith will soon find instead that his officers will have more work to do if the laissez-faire approach to enforcement continues.
If the public health crisis is not addressed; if the economic situation continues to worsen, it is almost guaranteed that crime will go up.