CoP tells Webster-Roy: Police focusing on Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Three men were gunned down while playing cards outside this shop in Black Rock, Tobago on July 8. – Photo by Visual Styles

COMMISSIONER of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher says the police are focusing on reducing crime in Tobago.

She made that comment in response to concerns raised by Tobago East MP Ayanna Webster-Roy to her and other members of the police service’s executive during a meeting with the Parliament’s National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC) at the Red House, Port of Spain on Monday. Webster-Roy’s concerns were related to a triple murder in Black Rock, Tobago, earlier in the day.

She said, “My little island of Tobago that was once known to be clean, green, safe and serene.”

Webster-Roy added that crime was not occurring in just one community or on one part of Tobago.

“We have reports coming out of Speyside, Mt St George, Black Rock and Mt Pleasant, Bethel and you could say across the entire island.”

She asked Harewood-Christopher if there were any changes to the police’s violent-crime-reduction plan that would be specific to treating with violent crimes in Tobago.

“What can you say to the people of Tobago now to give us a sense of assurance that decisive action is being taken and that reducing gun violence in Tobago is being given the right attention in terms of intelligence, in terms of operations, in terms of administration, in terms of CID (criminal investigations department.” Harewood-Christopher told Webster-Roy, “I am going to assure the Tobago public that our focus is on Tobago as much as it is on Trinidad.”

The Police Commissioner reminded JSC members that over the last two months, additional police officers were deployed to Tobago.

“We would have seen the rise of the crime (in Tobago). So we have officers from the GEB (Guard and Emergency Branch), the IATF ( Inter-Agency Task Force) functioning in Tobago, and that is a permanent initiative.”

Harewood-Christopher said, “As of this morning, another team of officers from the IATF has left to provide training for the frontline (police) officers of Tobago. So that is to ensure that they are capable and competent in doing basic road checks, teaching them to build their confidence to confront perceived offenders.”

She added, “So we have been focusing on Tobago and we will continue to focus.”

Harewood-Christopher confirmed police would meet with Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and his administration about crime on the island.

The National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, is scheduled to meet at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services, Tobago on July 9.

Dr Rowley has invited Augustine to attend this meeting. National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and Harewood-Christopher will also attend the meeting.

Webster-Roy asked if the police were able to predict there would be an upsurge in crime in Tobago, with respect to gun violence.

Harewood-Christopher replied, “When you look at the trends, up to a point.”

Deputy Commissioner (Intelligence) Suzette Martin said, “Yes we checked and we have intelligence. We are working behind the scenes on gun violence, not only in Tobago but Trinidad and Tobago.”

She added, “We will be responding to Tobago very soon.”

Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell asked what were the reasons for the increase in violent crime in Tobago

Special investigations unit legal officer, Cpl Zaheer Ali recalled that at a previous JSC meeting, Independent Senator Dr Paul Richards spoke about a “few major criminal gangs that have sleeper cells in various parts of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Ali said, “One of the reasons why we identify that is significant in terms of what we are seeing from an intelligence context here in Tobago where the gangs that have established themselves in TT, are continuing to seek other opportunities, whether it be in the context of opportunities for lucrative drug blocks or easy avenue for trafficking dangerous drugs, trafficking humans.”

Based on this intelligence, he continued, “that migration to Tobago is really looking to take charge of territory that can be lucrative for the gangs.”

Ali identified the Anti-Gang, Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) and Miscellaneous Provisions Acts as pieces of legislation which could be explored in greater depth to curb violent crime.

He said over the last two months, the police have acted against certain criminal gangs in Trinidad.

“I want to assure you that it is also extending to Tobago with reference to the enforcement of the anti-gang legislation and the administration of justice act.”

Ali said common law grants the police powers with respect to the arrest and detention of people for certain crimes. He added the police are bolstering their efforts in this regard with respect to the Anti-Gang Act.

“We are now exploring the legislation where we are using the statutory powers to ensure that the police are given sufficient, justifiable time with judicial intervention to ensure that we gather the evidence that we require.”

Quoting to a question WhatsApped to her by a constituent, Webster-Roy asked how could certain foreign social-media personalities know the identities of local criminal gangsters but the police did not.

Ali said, “Regardless of who may have identified or caused the ‘intelligence/evidence’ to be unveiled, what I can give as a matter of confidence and certainty is that the TT Police Service has responded to reference with what we have seen.”

JSC chairman, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, SC, said that response did not address Webster-Roy’s question.

Martin replied, “Sir, we have the intelligence. Based on the Anti-Gang Act, we have to meet that evidential threshold. Those gang members are being arrested and charged for various offences. Not necessarily under the Anti-Gang Act but we have the information and we are working.”

She said while technology helps police investigations, it does not stand alone.

After referring to the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to help curb crime, Martin said, “We need persons to identify these persons on the footage.”

In a statement, Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh claimed that under Rowley and Harewood-Christopher, Tobago had become a “no man’s land” because of crime.

After describing Harewood-Christopher as a “prayer warrior”, Indarsingh claimed, “This country has become Satan’s footstool.”