CoP promises decrease in murder rate by June

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher responds to questions during the JSC on National Security as ACP Collis Hazel looks on at the Linda Baboolal Meeting Room, St. Vincent Street, Port of Spain, Monday. – AYANNA KINSALE

NEW Commissioner of Police (CoP) Erla Christopher promised a reduction in murders by June, at her first public grilling by Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security at Cabildo Chambers, Port of Spain, on the day TT recorded its 104th murder compared to 92 for the same period last year.

Committee member Jayanti Lutchmedial feared that the current murder rate was on a trajectory to end up at 1,000 murders by year-end, as she said the population was traumatised by last year’s death toll of 600. She asked the CoP what was her time line for her strategies to produce results in reducing murders.

Christopher replied, “We’d expect to see a change in the murder rate short-term by June, and long-term by December.”

Lutchmedial asked if that intended crime reduction would include an increase in the detection rate for murders.

Christopher replied, “Yes, indeed. Presently (sic) our detection rate is under 13 per cent.

“It is my intention and that of my executive to focus more on the forensic, the use of DNA technology and ballistics.”

She referred to Sen Supt (Homicide) Rishi Singh who said the time line to get ballistics results was usually six months, unless expedited in special cases to one week.

Lutchmedial, an attorney-at-law, lamented cases she knew of where the police had to wait one year to 18 months to get ballistics results, this time then delaying the start of the relevant court case.

In her opening address earlier, Christopher said she felt honoured and humbled in her new post, for which she thanked MPs, adding that she thanked God for appointing and anointing her to that job.

“I want to assure the national public that it is my intention to bring about meaningful changes in the policing of our country to ensure we are properly able to manage crime and criminal activity.”

She said she was finalising her crime reduction strategy document – to be given to the JSC within 14 days – which she said had four pillars – namely: precision policing, intelligence, proaction and prosecution.

Explaining that most crimes were done by just a few individuals, she promised to dismantle gangs and reduce the number of drug blocks in TT, under the strategy.

Christopher promised to increase police visibility, increase detection and prosecution of crime, and increase accountability and transparency within the police service. She vowed to target prolific offenders and gang leaders, while promoting a positive image of the police.

Committee chairman Keith Scotland asked what Christopher had meant by once referring to the storm before the calm.

She replied, “We are implementing new strategies to deal with violent crime. As the strategy takes effect we will see a reduction. So it’s the storm before the calm.”

Asked about the equipping of her officers with body cams, Christopher said the TTPS had 1,100 body cams which are allocated to 1,000 front-line officers across ten divisions, the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) and Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB.)

“We are procuring 400 more within the next three months.”

Lutchmedial asked if officers were wearing body cams during a recent shooting at Princes Town caught on video where an alleged robbery suspect was seemingly surrendering when shot multiple times by the police.

“I am unable to say,” Christopher replied, while confirming that she had ordered an investigation.

The committee then heard problems about the functioning of two mobile scanners for $1.8 million.

JSC deputy chairman Paul Richards lamented the theft of 5,944 motor vehicles from 2017-2022, remarking, “Someone is benefiting tremendously from the larceny of vehicles in TT.”

Ag DCP (Intelligence and Investigations) Curt Simon said these figures were “staggering and of concern” but remarked, “We intend to impact this business.”

JSC member Dr Roodal Moonilal said the police had not yet complied with a court order to return 500 bullets to a firearms dealer, but Christopher said she had not seen the relevant document.

Moonilal offered to supply it to her but Scotland asked if Moonilal had now become a process server, with Moonilal in turn asking if Scotland was the CoP’s attorney, in a heated exchange.

Asked about the import of illegal firearms, Simon said most were discovered at ports and airports, a fact he said suggested officials were facilitating that trade.

He later said TT had 104 criminal gangs but could not recall offhand the number of gang members, even as he noted both of those figures fluctuated.

Moonilal complained about “a committee of civilians” being established to investigate the firearms registry and asked if police officers should take orders from civilians. Lutchmedial later told Newsday the committee comprised of Retired Inspector of Police Leonard Charles, Retired ACP Virgil Wellington and Retired Inspector of Police Brian Pierre.

Christopher replied that the police did not take instruction from civilians but that what that committee was doing was an audit. She said firearm user licences (FULs) were now issued from one central point in the TTPS, in contrast to previously having been issued locally within each of ten police divisions.

Asked about police CCTV cameras, Simon said out of 1,796 cameras, some 1,312 were working but 484 non-functional.

Moonilal asked about police policy on the use of non-lethal devices.

Christopher replied, “The use of tasers and pepper spray is regulated by our use of force policy. Pepper spray and tasers have been procured and distributed throughout the ten divisions. Tear gas may be used by our public order team.”

ACP Winston Maharaj (Criminal Division) lamented failings in the socialisation of some youngsters and said the police have to step in to fill this breach, such as by holding workshops with parents.