Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith announced the appointment of Supt Roger Alexander as the new head of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) on Wednesday.
Supt Alexander is a popular police presence on television. At SORT he replaces Insp Mark Hernandez, who is facing charges of misbehaviour in public office following allegations of encouraging the beating of a suspect in custody for questioning about the kidnapping and murder of Andrea Bharatt.
SORT is Mr Griffith's tip-of-the-spear response to crime, addressing serious offences such as kidnapping, human trafficking and drug seizures.
The unit was formed at the end of 2018 and first made headlines with a high-profile drug bust in Westmoorings. Of the police presence in that neighbourhood, Mr Griffith said, "Happy hour is over."
But SORT is also a unit frequently mentioned in recent incidents of police shootings.
One year after the bust, a suspect in a police killing, Michael Thomas, was dead in Valencia after reportedly shooting at a SORT team. Glean Bain was reported to have pulled a gun on SORT officers in San Juan before being shot dead.
In April 2020, three men were killed in yet another shootout with a SORT team in Santa Cruz, and a month later, Nigel Mayers was killed in an armed confrontation with SORT in Morvant.
While the masked officers are sometimes positioned in more friendly roles such as delivering hampers to the needy during the first covid19 lockdown, they are not the carrot or teddy-bear arm of the police. They are quite deliberately the stick.
There is clearly need for a robust response to crime. Over the last fortnight, police seized dozens of guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition at the Piarco bond and a Couva warehouse. The seizure of marijuana and cocaine worth $38 million at sea off Point Fortin on April 23 is also worrisome.
But what distinguishes a police response from crime itself is a clear understanding of the importance of the rule of law and the example that officers are sworn to follow and demonstrate in upholding it. The end does not justify illegal or excessive means.
The debacle of SORT's former head having to appear in an ID parade is disturbing enough; and the charges facing Mr Hernandez are part of a questionable investigation process that resulted in the deaths of two other suspects in a murder case.
The public impression of SORT, a first responder in often violent situations, must be tempered by overt and firm control of its interventions by police leadership; so the quick and procedurally correct response to allegations against Mr Hernandez is ultimately good for SORT.
What's also critically important is ensuring that there continues to be a high-visibility and transparent commitment by police management to manage the operations of SORT and to ensure it carries out its task with appropriate restraint and within legal limits.