Carnival policing

Police officers during a traffic stop in Valencia on February 8 as they check on drivers who may be flouting the laws. - ROGER JACOB
Police officers during a traffic stop in Valencia on February 8 as they check on drivers who may be flouting the laws. - ROGER JACOB

As Carnival steps into higher gear, the need for sensitive but effective policing also increases.

In January, the Minister of National Security assured the public that, "security for Carnival will not be compromised." He was clearly responding to a warning by ASP Gideon Dickson, head of the Police Social and Welfare Association that the police leadership was out of touch with the mood and needs of officers.

In addition to concerns about the speed of back pay distribution, officers are also upset at having to go through civilian procedures to apply for a firearm's user licence.

On Tuesday, the Opposition Leader also called on officers, particularly those who had not received their back pay, to step up and report for duty.

At a media briefing on January 26, ACP Winston Maharaj promised that the police, Defence Force and municipal police intend to take a zero-tolerance approach to public safety during Carnival.

It's a threat that's become routine, but in an intimate and interactive festival, what does that really mean? ACP Kelvern Thompson warned of a hardline on weapons, including licensed firearm holders with a promise of immediate arrest if anyone is found with a weapon in their possession.

Another aspect is an increased police presence, which Mr Maharaj claimed led to a "displacement of criminality." Neither displaces the importance of intelligence-driven preemptive policing. Since 2019, the police have been using drone technology to increase their capacity to observe and analyse the street parade on Monday and Tuesday. In October 2023, Justice Frank Seepersad dismissed a wrongful arrest lawsuit while praising police officers for their work in defusing a potential terrorist plot that threatened to disrupt the 2018 Carnival celebrations.

As is sometimes the case with such investigations, the result was not successful arrests and prosecutions, but the quashing of potential threats. An emphasis on stopping or discouraging criminal plans and ensuring that they never proceed to execution is a policing ideal from any perspective, even if such interdictions lack the drama – and danger – of gunplay.

Police operations during Carnival demand a physical presence which synchronises efficiently with private security arrangements while offering responses that use non-confrontational techniques wherever possible.

Along with the intimidating officers in their protective riot gear, seeding crowds with observant, plainclothes officers trained to defuse potential flashpoints should be part of the strategy.

The role of the police service is central to the management of Carnival, but it must proceed in synchronisation with the other arms of the national security services, all working together to serve the stakeholders of the festival, from the youngest blue devil to the largest masquerade band.

That goal must be achieved in alignment with the ambitions of Carnival, to provide a safe, yet exciting experience for everyone who has gathered to celebrate it.


"Carnival policing"

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