Police vehicles equipped with flashing blue lights and sirens may not be under the control of legitimate police officers, as some of the 1,700 vehicles under the control of the service cannot be found.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith admitted police vehicles may be in the hands of unauthorised people on Tuesday during a press briefing at the Police Administration Building, in Port of Spain.
In an effort to reduce the chances of police vehicles driving past roadblocks, transporting illegal items – including victims of human trafficking, and other serious criminal activity– Griffith has instructed officers to stop police vehicles driving through roadblocks.
They will also clamp down on the rampant use of flashing blue lights on unmarked police vehicles.
He has also made a request to the Attorney General, which once approved, will see the existing number plates replaced by special tags, similar to the ones used by the defence force. The new plates will be outfitted with radio frequency chips to track the vehicles if necessary.
Griffith said recently police stopped a marked police vehicle which was escorting a truck carrying heavy machinery. It turned out the car, outfitted with siren and flashing blue lights, had been decommissioned and sent to a scrapyard. The person who was driving it, in Rio Claro, was arrested and the car impounded. Investigations continue.
Asked whether the investigation involved the actions of a former senior police officer who had a close relationship with a south-based contractor, and whether illegitimate "police" vehicles could have been used to commit crimes, Griffith said it was possible, but declined to comment on the status or scope of the probe.
But, he said, "I give the assurance to members of the public that it is no longer going to take place. We are going to pinpoint and target every police vehicle, marked and unmarked, and if it is that anyone, whether present or past police officer, is involved in such acts, they will be dealt with according to the law."
In the past, people driving vehicles equipped with sirens and flashing blue lights have kidnapped business people for ransom and committed murders, among other serious crimes.
Griffith said when an audit revealed that some of the vehicles assigned to the service could not be found, he realised something was wrong.
He started a search "to verify and ensure that vehicles were not being misused and sidelined for the direction of certain persons," he said, and referred to the importation of sirens, flashing blue lights and a cache of weapons at Piarco and the weapons and explosives found recently in the prison garden in Arouca as "part of a bigger agenda." He said it was possible the weapons and blue lights were brought in for a possible jailbreak, where the escapees could avoid capture by pretending to be police officers.
The commissioner said two years ago he intervened after police vehicles were used to escort suspected criminals through roadblocks in Chaguaramas to and from Carnival fetes, but that probe was still incomplete.