THE police firearms unit at the core of the imbroglio involving former police commissioner Gary Griffith, the now defunct Police Service Commission (PSC) and the leadership of the service, is in “quarantine.”
On Saturday, the Prime Minister, during his media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's said the firearms department was closed.
“One of the recommendations that came through the plethora was that the the firearms department in the police service (is) quarantined. The only person who can sign a firearm user's license is the commissioner, so the deputy commissioner, while he is running the police service, cannot.”
Dr Rowley was helped by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds in labelling the department “quarantined.” Contacted for clarification, Hinds said since the issue was raised of alleged impropriety taking place in granting of firearm user's licences (FULs) it was only proper for the unit to be closed.
Hinds said: “As you're well aware, retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John has been mandated to conduct an investigation into certain matters pertaining to the issue of firearm licences. The firearm unit, or registry, is very central to his observation.
"So, quite naturally, the preservation of the records and matters pertaining to it is important, that it is in that context, the police service, co-operating fully as it does, and as it must, with Mr John, has quarantined – is the word I used – froze all activities in relation to that section, in order to permit the observations of Mr John."
John was appointed on September 1 by the now defunct PSC led by Bliss Seepersad to investigate allegations of corruption in the issuing of FULs. The PSC began its investigations while Griffith, whom it appointed to act as police commissioner from August 17 until a substantive CoP is appointed, was on leave. Griffith was subsequently suspended on September 17, mere days before he was scheduled to resume work, pending the outcome of the probe.
That suspension was eventually withdrawn after Griffith agreed to stay away from work until John completes his probe, and also led to a legal challenge which is still before the court.
The PSC began its investigation after the National Security Council (NSC), led by Rowley, initiated its own investigation. The NSC asked retired Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard and retired Snr Supt Arthur Barrington to carry out that investigation into the granting of gun permits to civilians, the results of which triggered the PSC’s investigation. The investigation was done because the NSC “became aware of public disquiet,” Hinds told the Senate last month.
Apart from the two organisations investigating the granting of FULs, both the police and the Police Complaints Authority are investigating allegations of bribes for FULs.
Under Griffith's three-year tenure, more than 5,000 gun licences were issued, with over 100 civilians being given licences to carry semi-automatic weapons. None of his predecessors granted that many licences: on average 200 licences were issued annually, mainly for civilians to carry handguns and shotguns.
Rowley said while he did not have much to be concerned about with regard to who will be running the police service, only the police commissioner can sign off on granting gun licences.
The temporary closure of the firearms department means that emergency licences for members of the protective services who are under threat will be on hold.
With the collapse of the PSC, Sunday Newsday asked Hinds if the John-led investigation will be nullified. He said John will have to continue.
“Mr John can continue his work and he will report to the PSC whenever his work is complete, whenever that might be.
"While the PSC may not have a quorum, the administrative arm of the PSC and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) still exists. And any support that Mr John needs could be coming from that administratively in the meantime. Mr John will issue his reports to the PSC whenever he is so ready to do.”
Addressing concerns that the service will end up in chaos if there is no acting police commissioner, Rowley said that was just red herrings. He said until the PSC is established and a commissioner is appointed, Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob will lead the service. He said the matter is before the court and by October 14, the country will know whether the appointment of an acting police commissioner must be done with parliamentary approval.
The court matter referred to is the the interpretation summons brought by social activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj. The case questions the legality of both Griffith’s and Jacob’s acting appointments. Jacob’s acting appointment ends on October 15.
Rowley added: “The police service will just be run by the deputy commissioner, who is now acting as commissioner of police. That is what will happen. There is no need for the country to get capsized over that.
"Once a commission is in place, they pick up the baton there and proceed to go through the process of appointing a commissioner, and in the meantime, the deputy commissioner is in the post and will continue to run the police service as deputy commissioner. If his acting as commissioner is struck down by the court, then he has another position, deputy commissioner.”