After legal threats by 122 police constables – Erla caves in, halts promotions

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo by Roger Jacob

POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher has agreed to stop promotions from constables to corporals…for now.

The commissioner’s position was telegraphed to attorneys representing the 122 constables who threatened to take her to court over the 2023 promotion exercise débâcle.

On January 25, legal officer Anya Ramute-Mohan advised that Harewood-Christopher was “willing to give an undertaking not to take any further steps and/or make any decisions concerning the 2023 promotion to the rank of corporal, pending the substantive response to the issues raised.”

On Wednesday, the commissioner had been given 24 hours to stop promotions of constables. Ramute-Mohan also asked to be given until February 23, to provide a “comprehensive response” to the concerns raised by the 122 constables in their pre-action protocol letter on Wednesday.

However, attorneys for the 122, say the 30 days asked for by the commissioner is “unreasonable.”

The group is represented by attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Karina Singh, Leon Kalicharan, Keston Lewis and Jasmyn Sargeant of Fortis Chambers.

“We have pointed to factual matters which reveal the Commissioner’s propensity to act in a clandestine manner in making decisions averse to our clients’ rights and interests…” the commissioner’s legal officer was told.

Singh pointed out that some of these “clandestine” moves included the delayed provision of the officers’s individual scores after three months of asking, after which a departmental order was published with a new comparative merit list and the publication of a second promotion list in January.

“Our clients have not had an opportunity to make any enquiry into their scores nor has the commissioner addressed the participating membership on what steps have been taken in rectifying ‘anomalies’ or, how the commissioner has corrected same.

“Currently, any assessment/revision conducted by the Promotions Advisory Board and/or the commissioner remains tainted which, has its own repercussions.”

The commissioner was asked to hold her hand on any new promotion or taking any action against those officers who were found to be erroneously promoted and she agreed to this on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, the officers’s attorneys sought clarity on a purported “glitch” in producing the 2023 merit list for the promotion of constables to the rank of corporal.

Among the 122 are officers who have challenged the 2023 promotion process at various stages. They now want explanations on the “comparative merit list,” the “glitch,” and the purported revoking of stripes of some officers promoted in September.

They want a complete account for when the “glitch” was detected, the root cause, the corrective measures taken to prevent further glitches, the diagnostic measures used to verify the issue and those involved in composing the merit list of officers to be promoted.

They also want the scores of all officers on the comparative merit list.

“Considering the publicly admitted errors and anomalies occurred in the promotion process, the credibility of the TTPS has already been undermined and its credibility is now at stake.

“There is now a duty to act in a transparent and accountable manner to negate the public’s scepticism of the legitimacy of the police promotions process and the perception of nepotism, favouritism and illegitimate actions.

“Thus, a call for urgent clarification on the aforementioned matters remains critical before any further actions/decisions are taken from an underlying flawed and tainted process.”

The attorneys said some of their clients were penalised for taking sick leave associated with pregnancies, in contravention of the Maternity Act and there were officers on injury leave who were not promoted.

“There is also the inconsistent application of those on vacation leave and pre-retirement leave, who received promotion without qualification or corresponding requirement to report on duty. This is the epitome of what is arbitrary and irrational,” the attorneys claimed.

“Having regard to the series of shortcomings, it is now untenable for our clients to continually subject themselves to a process and system which has consistently failed and deprived them of a procedurally fair and transparent process.

“It is therefore our respectful view that in light of the plague of discrepancies, the merit list and the promotion list are blatantly compromised.

“It is regrettable that several steps were taken without accounting to the participating membership the manner in which you and those under your delegation intended to utilise significant state resources to rectify the flagrant maladministration of the promotion assessment,” the letter said.

This latest threat of legal action comes soon after 93 constables wrote to the Police Service Commission (PSC) complaining of the conduct of the commissioner and the Promotion Advisory Board in the 2023 promotion exercise, which saw 900 officers being elevated to the rank of corporal.

Their complaint is expected to be tabled at the PSC’s next sitting on February 8.

Wednesday’s letter said the 2023 exercise involved a backlog of over 2,000 officers now competing for limited vacancies for corporals.

A March 2023 merit list contained the names of 2,342 constables. Some 861 were promoted in September. There are reportedly 1,200 available spots for the rank.

On Wednesday, the Police Service Social and Welfare Association spoke about the promotions débâcle, saying it had affected officers’ morale.