AMID widespread criticism and condemnation of her management of the police service, the Prime Minister has defended the tenure of Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher, saying that bashing the top cop does not help deal with the crime situation in the country.
Speaking on January 18 at the first post Cabinet press briefing for the year, at Whitehall, Dr Rowley said the commissioner needed support rather than ridicule. He said other people know about crime and criminality in the country so those who were part of the problem should keep quiet.
“(They) mightn’t be your favourite, mightn’t be his favourite, but the bottom line is that is the person who, for a period of time, is required to run the Police Service. I don’t think it helps to try to get yourself in the news every night by shouting down everything negative about the Commissioner of Police.
“She needs our support. If it was a ‘he,’ he needs our support because the situation is, that is the person who we’ve put there to do that job.”
Amid a high murder rate and daily brazen acts of crime including robberies, shootings and home invasions, the police commissioner has been pilloried, especially on social media, especially after she was quoted as saying that prayers are needed to reduce crime and criminality.
Rowley also stressed Government would not be calling a state of emergency (SoE) to deal with the country’s worsening crime, not only because it was an ineffective measure in getting to the root cause of criminality, but because it would hurt the economy.
He made this statement in response to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar saying, at the UNC's public crime talks on Monday at La Joya auditorium in St Joseph, that a state of emergency was needed to directly tackle crime.
Comparing the situation to that of 2011 when then prime minister Persad-Bissessar's People’s Partnership government declared an SoE to deal with the rising murder rate, Rowley said if government panics and calls an SoE, it would be an injustice to the country.
“There are a number of downsides to it, the least of which we would want to do nothing to disrupt the economic recovery (from the pandemic lockdown) that we have been working towards and hoping to experience going forward.”
He added that about 8,000 people were held during the 2011 SoE but most were released because of a lack of evidence.
“The end result of that was a fleet of lawsuits against the state by some of the very people who were thought to be the root of the criminal problem in the country.
"And in the absence of appropriate, justiciable evidence to prevail in the court, these people suddenly had a supply of State money to buy more guns. Because they kept winning the cases.”
Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago, like many other places in the world, is experiencing an upsurge of criminal activity. He said there were limitations to what the government could do and there was not much more it could do in terms of resources for the police.
He said the TTPS may not be “the best in the world” and was not as successful as it should but it is what the country has and what the law allows to be used. He stressed that other arms of the State would do “what is necessary” and by working together, they would bring the criminals to heel. He also revealed that the strength of the TTPS is about 8,000.
UNC PLAYING POLITICS
Rowley claimed the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) was just playing politics with a difficult situation and did not really want to see crime abated as evidenced by its failure to meet for the much-touted crime talks.
“The Opposition doesn’t really want any abatement of this crime. As a matter of fact, I think they are very happy that their expectations (of crime worsening) have come to pass because every time we’ve been in the Parliament and tried to do anything that could have some kind of dampening effect on crime, we could never get their support. There’s always some excuse.”
He said instead of putting together a team to participate in the crime talks between the government and Opposition, Persad-Bissessar kept writing him long letters and insisting that he replied and that if he were not there personally, no talks could take place.
He named four government ministers to be involved in what would be a discussion of different views, requested the Opposition name four members of Parliament and assigned the Attorney General to organise the meeting.
“This seems to have offended the Opposition, because the Opposition took the position that unless the Prime Minister is there, nothing can’t happen.
“Well I don’t subscribe to that. I will not be subscribing to that. I am not the government! The government is the institutions and the officers of State and I put responsible officers there.”
Saying that the UNC had a history of non-cooperation, Rowley said that before crime became the national issue it is now, health was the major concern.
He reminded that his government established a committee of experts to investigate the health service and this committee later submitted the Welch Report. The Opposition, he continued, had failed to put forward its members to a joint select committee of Parliament in order to examine the report and look at its recommendations.