POLICE officers are trained to deal with potentially volatile situations involving homeless people, acting Asst Commissioner (Criminal Division) Sharon Cooper told the Human Rights, Equality and Diversity Joint Select Committee (JSC) during a virtual meeting on Friday.
"We have ongoing training that is part of our whole programme."
Cooper lamented, "Of course, you have unfortunate situations which we would not know beforehand. We try to treat with those situations using our policy..." although, she added, "From time to time, we have situations where it would not be a smooth transition."
The police now have Tasers and pepper spray, but Cooper said communication with homeless people is the first tactic before using these non-lethal weapons.
"If at that point in time, they are not willing to co-operate with the police officers, then we resort to a different level of dealing with them by using our Tasers or pepper spray to bring them down."
She recalled a recent event in South Trinidad when "a mentally ill person had to be subdued by one of the officers who were there, to protect him from himself."
Cooper said, however, "We do assist persons, no matter their status in life, no matter their position."
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye believed more needed to be done to train police officers to deal properly with homeless people. She suggested training should be held for experienced officers across the board in all police divisions rather than just new recruits. Thompson-Ahye said there have been too many instances in the recent past where the families of homeless people accuse the police of mistreating relatives who are homeless and mentally ill.
"Too many people are crying out."
Social Development Ministry permanent secretary Jacqueline Johnson and Health Ministry Director of Mental Services Dr Hazel Othello said efforts are being made to have this type of training accredited as part of the curriculum for police officers.
During the meeting, Cooper expressed concern about possible under-reporting of crimes against homeless people in Port of Spain.
"What we looked at in the Port of Spain area from 2017-2021, we have 81 persons who were categorised as socially displaced persons...charged for varying criminal offences."
During the same period, Cooper said, "We have where 17 persons from that same community (homeless people) were victims of crime, one of which was as the result of a homicide."
She added, "We feel that these figures were significantly under-reported because of the community involved, which is the socially displaced community."