Erla on criticism after term extension: ‘I can get the job done’

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher examines the documents of a driver during her tour-of-duty with her fellow officers in different police districts.  - File photo courtesy TTPS
Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher examines the documents of a driver during her tour-of-duty with her fellow officers in different police districts. - File photo courtesy TTPS

In the face of sustained public criticism, Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher, in her first public statement since the second extension of her post, says she has laid “a solid foundation” in her first year in office “that has already begun to yield results.”

Harewood-Christopher, 62, had been acting in the post from December 7, 2022 and was confirmed as the substantive CoP on February 3.

As she was due to retire when she turned 60 on May 15, 2023, an extension in her tenure was approved by Parliament in May 2023. Her term was again extended by one year effective May 15 and was confirmed in a press release by the Office of the Prime Minister issued by the Ministry of Communications on May 13.

The Police Service Commission (PSC) began advertising the position in daily newspapers on April 11 with the deadline for applications on May 3.

In a radio interview National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said if the government did not act before Harewood-Christopher’s term expired on May 14, the country would have been in the undesirable position of having no substantive CoP leading the police service.

He said, “An extension of service for three years maximum, one year at a time, and at the conclusion of each of those years there aught to be a review. And we found that the PSC’s assessment of her was good.”

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher, right, and other police officials examine weapons found and siezed on October 11, 2023 during an exercise in Santa Cruz. - File photo courtesy TTPS

With the continued rise in the murder rate and in gang violence, Harewood-Christopher told Newsday in a WhatsApp statement that her commitment, and that of the TTPS, to make every place in Trinidad and Tobago safe was a challenge that faced the nation long before she assumed office. But, she said, it was a challenge she was determined to overcome.

“I view this extension as a continuation of my lifelong service to protect and serve with pride. And I am prepared to continue to do so as long as I see the evidence that I can make a difference.

“I welcome this opportunity to continue because in my first year as CoP I have been able to lay a solid foundation that has already begun to yield results. Continuing in the role will provide me the opportunity to further embed these and other strategic initiatives that I am optimistic will produce the improvement and the relief that the population is demanding from the TTPS.”

Harewood-Christopher said it was not an easy job to disable and restrict criminals and their activities, and she was not intimidated by the job.

She said success or failure in solving crime was dependent on intelligence and information provided by the public.

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher speaks with a grieving relative of one of the four men killed in a shooting incident at Powder Magazine Phase 1, Cocorite, on May 4. - File photo by Venessa Mohammed

“But instead of working towards solutions, many preferred to find fault, criticise and condemn without facts or a basic understanding of issues, “providing more heat than light.”

“In the current environment I have no expectation that I will not be criticised. Apparently it comes with the territory. That will not however be allowed to diminish my strength of conviction to act and make decisions in accordance with what I believe to be right and proper in any circumstance.

“It will be useful however if as a society if in examining the root cause and motivation for crime, if we can agree that crime is a societal problem and that the police alone cannot solve the national crime problem.”

She said the achievements of the police were often overlooked or understated so she hoped and expected the population would have greater trust and confidence in the police service as it continued to build integrity.

She was thankful that the PSC was “sensitive and very discerning of the work that has been done over the past year” when it came to changes and improvements to the functioning of the police service. She also thanked the executive and officers and stakeholders for their support and confidence.

Before the announcement on May 13, questions meant to clarify the fate of the police service were sent to Harewood-Christopher, the Office of the President, the PSC, Hinds, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, and acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert. But no one would hint as to whether or not Harewood-Christopher would be returning to the position or even respond.

Since then, several people criticised government’s decision including members of the Opposition.

In an address at the fifth UNC Anti-Crime consultation at Morvant/Laventille on May 13, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Cabinet’s decision left her with a heavy heart.

She said, “Now I have no pain or no trouble with that CoP. In fact, we voted for her when the matter came to the Parliament the last time (2023).

“We voted for her. We said we would give her a chance. But with a heavy heart I report this..., because I am even more worried what will be happening in Trinidad and Tobago for the rest of the year.”

As of May 15 the country’s murder rate was 206 compared to 224 on the same date last year.


"Erla on criticism after term extension: ‘I can get the job done’"

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